Employee Relations Questions of the Week

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Mandatory Retirement: Is It Legal?

Question:

Our company has a mandatory retirement and requires our employees to retire at age 67.  We don’t discriminate….everyone is required to retire.  I just had someone “push back” when I started discussing their retirement saying I was being discriminatory.  I told them everyone is asked to leave at age 67, is that a problem?

Answer:

Well….it definitely could be.  Mandatory retirement is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act UNLESS there is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) or they are age 65 and are a “Bona Fide Executive” or in a “High Policymaking Position”.

BFOQ’s are hard to prove.  Employers are required to first show that the duties are necessary for the job, AND then show that the individual’s age prohibits them from doing that qualification safely and/or efficiently.  It is hard to provide and most roles that have been able to do this include roles in public safety or public transportation.  

The next two defensible reasons are a little easier to prove.  To summarize: A “Bona Fide Executive” (defined by the EEOC) is someone who:

  • Manages the company or organization or a subdivision of the company or organization,
  • Directs the work of at least two other employees,
  • Has the authority to hire or terminate other employees or has significant influence in such decision,
  • Has and uses discretionary authorities, and
  • Spends no more than 20 percent of his or her work time on activities unrelated to the activities required herein (40 percent for retail or service companies).

A “High Policymaker” (defined by the EEOC) is someone who is a top level employee (and not a Bona Fide Executive) but who plays a significant role in developing and implementing corporate policy.

If you can show that the individual fits one of those categories, you could consider mandatory retirement for the individual.  It is important, however, to challenge the “thought’ of mandatory retirement for employees, even if they are defensible.  Age is just that….an age.  There are 75 year olds ‘outperforming’ 35 year olds all of the time.  Age should not be a defining factor in most instances of retention.  Be sure you are doing the right thing, for the right reasons, when considering such a policy.

For definitions and specifics of these allowances, click here.

 

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

When and Why Is It Important to Use Consensual Relationship Agreements?

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Question:

We just found out that 2 of our employees are in a romantic relationship.  Although they’re not in a supervisor/subordinate relationship, shouldn’t we still be concerned?

Answer:

Although romantic relationships in the workplace are quite common, you do have reasons for concern about employees dating.

Of course, the #1 fear for most employers is the risk of a sexual harassment lawsuit.  The difficulty for the employer is proving that a relationship is consensual.  The best approach is to first meet with both employees independently and determine whether there is any possibility that the agreement is not consensual. In particular, you should:

  • Make sure that the employee understands the company’s sexual harassment policy;
  • Emphasize to your employee that they will not be retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment;
  • Explain the procedure for reporting sexual harassment; and
  • Document the employee’s file with a summary of the interview.

Assuming that the relationship is indeed consensual, a great tool is to require the employees enter a “Consensual Relationship Agreement.”   The agreement, signed by both employees and management, provides that the employees will not allow the relationship to interfere with or impact the work environment, and also confirms and documents that the relationship is consensual and voluntary.  It is highly encouraged that the employer attach a copy of the company’s sexual harassment policy to the agreement to prove that the employee was aware of the sexual harassment policy and had the opportunity to report any inappropriate conduct by the other employee.  If done properly, a consensual relationship agreement will make it more difficult for an employee to claim that the relationship was “unwelcome.”  In addition, the agreement will create a question about why the employee did not seek to stop the harassment by reporting it to management.

Consensual Relationship Agreements are an important tool in managing the risk of sexual harassment claims; however, they must be created and administered with care.

Unsure what a “Consensual Relationship Agreement” looks like? strategic HR, inc. has a Virtual HR Library that you can subscribe to that contains a sample of this agreement along with other HR related policies, forms, checklists, toolkits, and more.  As a subscriber of the Virtual HR Library, you would have access to these tools 24/7 and wherever possible, they are in Word or Excel to make it easy for you to modify as needed.  For a demo, contact us now.

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Are Holiday Gifts, Prizes or Parties Taxable Wages?

Question:

Are holiday gifts, prizes or parties taxable wages?

Answer:

With the holiday season approaching, organizations may find that individuals or groups who benefit from the organization’s services, desire to make year-end gifts to the organization’s employees for their loyal service.

Employee gifts in the form of cash or gift certificates/coupons, regardless of the amount, are always treated by the Internal Revenue Service as W-2 “wages” subject to withholding taxes. In the case of a gift certificate or coupon, the tax applies to the face value of the certificate/coupon.

An exception to this rule, known as de minimis fringe benefits that an employer gives to its employees, are not subject to income or payroll taxes. A de minimis fringe benefit is any property or service the value of which (after taking into account the frequency with which similar fringes are provided by the employer to its employees) is so small (typically under $50.00) as to make accounting for it unreasonable or administratively impracticable.

Disclaimer: The information in this Q&A is for general information purposes only. Tax issues are complicated and every situation is different, so you should consult your tax advisor or finance department before you do anything that could be a tax liability for employees or which might affect the deductibility of an employee gift.

Having good employee relations is key to effectively managing (and retaining) your workforce. Employees want to feel valued and may not perform up to standards, or stick around very long, if they don’t feel they are needed. Strategic HR, inc. understands the value of your workforce and having good Employee Relations. We’ve helped companies create reward and recognition programs and have coached managers on providing support and mentoring to their employees. Learn how we can help you with your Employee Relations needs by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Holiday Swap

Question:

A few employees have approached me and asked if they could “swap” holidays.  They don’t observe Christmas and would prefer to work on that day and take another day off.  Do other employers do this?  What should I think about if I allow it?

Answer:

According to a recent article by SHRM,  only 18% of employers allow for such a holiday swap.  In the survey, the majority of employers report paying premiums for employees working on the scheduled holiday rather than allowing to holiday swap. The biggest problem with such a swap is for employers who are fully closed on the holiday.  It is next to impossible to swap the day if the entire plant is closed on Christmas and the employee wants to work.  If the plant is open, it is advised to allow for the flexibility, if you can provide it.

Be sure to document the swap and be clear on the reason.  Is it a religious accommodation?  If you allow it, be sure you are ready to open the door to other people AND to other holidays.  You may be surprised at what holidays you are asked to swap in the future.

Having policies and procedures that are easy to read and understand can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. Strategic HR, inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

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Employee Exit Interview Solutions

Question:

We try to do exit interviews with our employees when they leave but we either get no response or very poor information with just yes / no responses.  What can I do to try and get better responses from employees leaving so I can take a serious look at our cause of turnover, etc.?

Answer:

Well done exit interviews can provide valuable information regarding turnover within an organization.  The information obtained can assist with retention and can even identify concerns regarding supervision.  These meetings also allow for a last-chance discussion and assure that the employee leaves on the best terms avoiding potential claims or even ‘bad-press’ for the organization.

Even with all of these positives for the organizations, getting departing employees to participate (and see any benefit of it from their perspective) can sometimes be difficult.  In most instances these employees have checked out and aren’t willing to share information with the departing company.  Many employees aren’t interested in drudging up old issues or criticizing the organization in their moments before departure.  Doing so could jeopardize a good reference letter or even create issues with coworkers later in their careers.

For all of these reasons, it is important to push for these valuable pieces of information.  A few suggestions on how to get the information include:

  • Make sure the employees understand why you are asking for the information and what will be done with it.
  • Consider using a neutral third-party to get the information to allow for confidentiality.
  • Consider waiting for a period of time after the individual departs to get the exit interview data (3 to 6 months) after there is some emotional distance from the job.

Using some of these suggestions may help to improve not only your response rate but the value of the data you obtain. For more information on why you are asking, what to ask and what to do with the data.

Did you know that most employees leave their jobs because of their managers, not their employers? Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-manager related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in managing employment relations and coaching employees, and managers, on how to resolve conflicts. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

 

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Being Charged for Constructive Discharge

Question: 

I just received a claim from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicating a charge for constructive discharge.  What does this mean?  The employee resigned, I’m not sure what I’m being charged with.

Answer:

According to the EEOC, Constructive Discharge is when an employee feels forced to resign because the employer (or those in the workplace) have made the work environment so intolerable that a reasonable person would not be able to stay working.  Constructive discharge alone is not grounds for a lawsuit alone, but it does open the door for a claim of discrimination and a resulting charge.

Some examples of constructive discharge are very obvious and employers should quickly be able to identify illegal activities making employees uncomfortable (verbal or physical threats for example).  Other constructive discharge claims show less obvious conduct such as:

  • Consistently assigning undesirable shifts or job duties,
  • Treating the employee poorly in general, or
  • Making a job difficult by withholding necessary information to do their job.

These three less obvious examples unfortunately happen all too often and we don’t realize it. It is important for HR, owners, and managers to be aware and of how actions could be perceived.

Do difficult situations with employees keep you awake at night? strategic HR, inc. understands how conflicts with employees can make or break your day (or a good night’s sleep). Call us when you encounter a difficult situation – we can help coach your managers, suggest solutions or advise you on a specific problem. Learn more about our Employee Relations services by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Pokémon GO – Staying Productive at Work

Question:

Pokémon GO has erupted at my workplace. Our offices are in a prominent downtown location and (I guess) is very enticing to many fans of the game. I don’t want to stifle the fun but I also want to make sure the office stays productive and doesn’t become a gaming center. Any suggestions?

Answer:

The Pokémon GO game has exploded across the country and the world.  This phenomenon seems to be here to stay and augmented reality applications are likely to expand and become much more prevalent.  Game players are predominantly female (63%) and 46% of users are between 18 and 29 with another 25% between ages 30 and 50 (according to Forbes Magazine).  The prevalence of this game into society is what can cause disruption in the work place.

For all of the benefits that the game brings, there can be less appealing attributes in the workplace.  It isn’t necessary to eliminate the fun all together, but it may be a good time to remind employees they can have fun and still “follow the rules”.  Remind your staff about your policies regarding game play at work.  In addition, remind them of company policies regarding the use of company phones for personal use and while driving.

Having easy to read and understand policies and procedures can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. Strategic HR, inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

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Are Electronic Pay Stubs Against the Law?

Question: 

Our employees are upset because we just went to all electronic pay stubs.  One employee came and threatened me that it was against the law.  Is this true? How should I handle this outrage for something that seems so simple?

Answer:

I know it may seem simple but any changes to employees pay (even when it is just how they are receiving the information) can be very delicate.  Communication on why you are implementing the change and providing notice to employees that the change is occurring may help to lessen the blow. Regarding legality, all states are different.  You need to check with your state to see what your state requires.  States fall into the following categories regarding the reporting of pay: 

  • no requirement (no statement is required),
  • access (statement must be provided),
  • access and print (statement must be provided and printed),
  • opt-out (statements can be electronic but employees must be able to opt out and get paper stubs), a
  • and opt-in (employees must give permission for electronic pay stubs). 

Check with your state to see what the requirement is.

One of the most difficult aspects of human resources management is dealing with people. Are you getting inundated with complaints about managers or employees that take you away from more pressing matters? Are you looking for an on-going solution to combat these issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest employer problems.

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Should e-cigarettes Be Included In Your Policy?

Question:

Our new employee has been puffing on an e-cigarette while working in the shop.  We have a no smoking policy, does that apply?  What do we do?

Answer:

While e-cigarettes do not technically produce smoke, they do produce a vapor that has chemicals including nicotine. From a distance, it is actually difficult to tell if an individual is smoking a traditional cigarette or an e-cigarette. For these reasons, it is safe to say that e-cigarettes should be included in your smoking policy but it is advised that the policy be revised to include e-cigarettes as an example of products that are not allowed.

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest Employee Relations problems.

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How Are You Supporting a Transgender Employee?

Question:

We have a transgender employee in our workplace and I am trying to do everything I can do to make sure they are treated the same as everyone else.  I don’t want to single them out, but I do want to make sure I provide a comfortable environment.  The area I am most concerned about is the restrooms. What should I do to make this individual and others comfortable as it relates to the restroom?

Answer:

The goal is to provide facilities appropriate for everyone and to not make anyone feel uncomfortable.  There are many options that companies have begun to use including gender neutral bathrooms and uni-stalls that are not be based on gender.  If this is not attainable in your workplace, it is recommended that the transgender employee be allowed to access the facility that corresponds to the gender with which they identify.  OSHA, OFCCP, and EEOC have all weighed in heavily on this issue and declare that it is appropriate to provide clean, sanitary bathrooms to all individuals, regardless of their gender identity.  Some states have state specific guidelines as well so I encourage you to review your state regulations regarding this matter.  A link to the OSHA guidance regarding Restroom Access for Transgender Workers is below.  

https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3795.pdf

Do you know you need help with the right thing to do with different types of employees but don’t know what type of help is best for your situation?  strategic HR, inc. can help. To learn more, contact us at 513-697-9855 or visit our website for details on our services.

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How Should Hourly Employees Be Paid During the Holidays?

Question:

With the holidays approaching our office is scheduled to be closed for several days. How many hours is an employer obligated to pay an hourly-paid employee who works a partial week because the employer’s business is closed?

Answer:

The FLSA does not require employers who are unable to provide work to non-exempt employees to pay them for hours the employees would have otherwise worked.

Employers are only required to pay for actual hours worked. In your situation above, be aware however, that actual “hours worked” have a number of items included aside from work hours. These items might include breaks, training time, travel time, and on call time – all may be “hours worked” so be careful how you handle this and check out the DOL website as well as your state labor website for additional details.

Do you know you need help but don’t know what type of help is best for your situation?  strategic HR, inc. knows how difficult this situation can be for the company and employee relationship. To learn more, contact us at 513-697-9855 or visit our website for details on our services.

 

 

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Office Holiday Party Behavior

Question:

How should you behave at the office Holiday Party?

Answer:

Even though it is a “party” atmosphere, office holiday parties have the ability to make or break an individual’s career. A little bit of inappropriate behavior at a party can stay in the minds of your coworkers for your entire career so be sure to remember this is a work function, not a party.Dos & Don’ts include:

  • Do attend and be social. The company has decided to invest money to have a party and the expectation is for participation. Be friendly and mingle and try to stay for at least 50% of the scheduled party time.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome. Keep in mind the party hours – you don’t want to be the first to arrive and last to leave.
  • Do act professionally. Yes, you can be social and more relaxed than in the workplace, however, this is not the time to ask inappropriate questions, flirt with the boss (or anyone else for that matter), use foul language or tell off color jokes.
  • Don’t wear provocative clothing. Feel free to wear the sequins, an ugly sweater, or even a reindeer hat, just keep it all covered.
  • Do remember people are watching you. Even though you feel like you are only interacting with a small group of “friends”, many others are observing your behavior, especially if it becomes inappropriate.
  • Don’t drink too much. Be socially responsible when drinking at an office party. Even if you can “handle” more drinks than most, keep it to a minimum.
  • Do listen more than you talk and avoid political, religious, or other controversial subjects.

Starting an HR Department, or expanding your HR function, takes foresight and good planning. Strategic HR, inc. has expertise in developing an HR strategy that not only handles the day to day function of HR, but aligns itself with the overall corporate strategy fundamental to a growing company and critical for good human resources. Visit our Services page to use our interactive HR Wheel. By clicking on the sections of the wheel you will learn about the different functions and how we can assist you with developing best practices within each function.

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Inappropriate Employee Behavior Outside of Work: What Can I Do?

Question:

Employees have come to me upset because a group of employees got “a little crazy” at a recent industry conference.  The employees complaining shared that they felt like it made the company look bad since they had name tags on that included the company name.  What can I do about this?  Can I talk with them about their behavior?

Answer:

Yes, it would be an appropriate conversation with the group of employees to remind them of professional behavior when they are representing the company.  Proudly wearing the company name on their name tag, they are still seen as representatives of the company, where clients and even possibly future recruits may have witnessed this behavior leaving an unfavorable impression.

As employers, we are very limited on what we can do regarding employee’s behavior outside of work.  However, similar to social media, we do have the right to protect the company interests.  If not already in place, it would be suggested to implement a Code of Conduct or Employee Ethics policy.  This policy would state the company’s expectations of appropriate behavior from employees, even outside of work.  The company can even go as far as to put restrictions on wearing company logoed clothing / hats outside of work.  There are obvious downsides to this from a marketing perspective but when negative behavior takes the leading role, you don’t want the company name associated with it.  Policies such as these provide a notice of expectation and allows the company to take disciplinary action if they feel it is necessary.  Finally, be sure to frequently remind employees that when they are wearing anything with the company name of it, they are a representative of the company.  If they wish to over-do-it in public, that is their choice, just don’t do it in our uniform.

One of the most difficult aspects of human resources management is dealing with people. Are you getting inundated with complaints about managers or employees that take you away from more pressing matters? Are you looking for an on-going solution to combat these issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Working Together Effectively After A Harassment Investigation

Question:

I have an employee that filed a complaint against their supervisor for alleged harassment.  An investigation has been completed and it was determined that there was not harassment and the issue was resolved.  I am very concerned about the employee and their supervisor being able to work effectively together in the future.  What can I do to help them move forward after this situation?

Answer:

That is definitely a tricky situation and one that many organizations and employees must overcome at one time or another.  It would be very easy in many instances to just separate the two and move them to separate departments but that is the not always the best solution.  Some other things to consider may be:

Coaching the Manager

Whether this manager did anything wrong or not, they will need one on one coaching and guidance on how to build and repair the relationship with the individual and possibly others in the department.  The manager will need to work to regain credibility with the individual and with those in the department.

Team Building for Group

This can be in different forms.  Team Building (you know… the rah rah kind to be build awareness and trust) or Team Development which is more about learning about others and their strengths.  Both are great but the later helps us to work together as a team and appreciate others and their differences.  You know…that annoying team member who blurts out everything they are thinking?  Well…there is value in that.  Team Development helps us understand that there is value in differences and also helps Mr./Mrs. Annoying understand how their actions can be irritating to others.  All good lessons for the team.

Impactful de-brief after the investigation

How you communicate the results of the investigation to both parties can help or hurt the situation moving forward.  Clearly dealing with the issues at hand and helping each person understand the behaviors and reactions and how to deal with them in the future (if they continue) is essential.  Secondly, they must be sure to focus on the business at hand and understand who to speak with if things get uncomfortable.  Until the dust settles, you may want to suggest they have a witness around when talking.  Communication will be key and that is challenging when your feelings are hurt.

Shake Out

Unfortunately, we’ve also seen many instances like this and the person claiming the harassment just elects to leave.  This will depend on their reaction to the outcome and how strongly they felt you found AND how valuable they are for you to prevent this.

Regardless of what route you take, it will be essential to have open and clear communications with all parties in an effort to move past the situation.

At strategic HR Inc., we offer a variety of team building and team development programs targeted to help get teams back on track for success. Each program is customized to meet the team’s dynamics and needs. For more information on our Team Effectiveness Programs, click here.

 

 

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Challenges with Team Effectiveness

Question:

I have a cross-functional team of very competent employees that used to be effective, but recently they seem to have lost their way. There is occasional in-fighting and now I am seeing some group paralysis and they are starting to miss deadlines.  What’s going on and is there something that I can do to help get them back on track?

Answer:

It is not uncommon for teams to go through a cycle of effectiveness and productivity and then suddenly seem to lose their way. This phenomenon is referred to as the life cycle of teams.  A one-time functional team can become dysfunctional for a variety of reasons – changing tasks, new members, perceived organizational barriers or a series of recent failures can all affect the motivation and focus of any well-functioning team.  Or, perhaps the role of the manager or team leader needs to change as the team has matured and developed over recent projects.

Some options to consider:

  • You may want to start by simply revisiting the team’s purpose and re-focus on their goals.  Sometimes an open discussion with all the team members pointing out the recent shortcomings can help to quickly re-focus the members on the task at hand.
  • The development of a Team Charter can also be a very effective tool for teams; a collaborative document that establishes team goals, norms, behavior and overall communication styles.  Used in conjunction with other tools, the charter can quickly unify a team around a central purpose and mission so that everyone is literally on the same page.
  • It can also be a time to address the evolving role of the manager or team leader as well. For example, an overly involved manager – while critical in the beginning of a team’s development, can actually hinder and stifle a team as they grow.  If a team is struggling and the manager is too hands-off, then the team will likely flounder.  Matching the leadership style to the needs of the group is a critical component of effective teams.
  • Another approach is to conduct a Team Effectiveness Survey with the team members to help flush out some of the issues and concerns of the various team members.  Such surveys can help pin-point some of the underlying issues such as trust and conflict resolution that may have de-railed the teams’ recent successes.
  • Utilizing personality profiles is another very powerful tool for helping teams become more effective.  For example, taking a team through the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) can have a profound effect helping team members learn how to better communicate with each other and how to resolve conflict.  (Differences in communication styles are generally the number one reason for team dysfunctionality).
  • A Team Building Retreat can also be an effective tool, especially for an intact team.  By getting everyone together off-site to really focus on communication issues, group styles and conflict resolution can do wonders to jump start either a new team, or one that has become stagnant.

Teams are dynamic and that means that they are constantly changing and evolving.  You will inevitably have hiccups along the way that will need to be adjusted to ensure continued team success.  The interventions listed above can be a great starting point to help get your team back on track.

At strategic HR Inc., we offer a variety of team building and team development programs targeted to help get teams back on track for success.  Each program is customized to meet the team’s dynamics and needs. For more information on our Team Effectiveness Programs, click here.

 

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Establishing a Uniform Policy

Question:

What are the pros and cons I should consider before establishing a uniform policy?

Answer:

Today, millions of employees wear corporate uniforms in the workplace.  Whether it is to clearly exhibit a company logo, make it easier for customers to identify employees, or to develop a sense of unity among the staff, they have become increasingly prevalent in the workplace.  Of course there are pros and cons to requiring this in the workplace and when considering implementing such a policy.  Before you leap, consider these pros and cons.

Pros:

• Gets the employee into a professional mindset before starting his or her shift, thus improving employee performance. 

• Employees are able to be easily identified by customers and other staff members.  Some workplaces have different uniforms for the different levels of staff members making it easier to distinguish between those with specific responsibilities (managers, trainees, etc).

• Advertising: Uniforms give companies a chance to market their brand on clothing that employees wear; especially if the job requires employees to go out in public.   

• Makes the employees feel like they are a part of a team which promotes good workplace morale. 

Cons:

• Employee opposition: Some employees may not approve of the uniforms.  This could affect job performance if he or she is not comfortable in the uniform.   

• Expensive: The cost of supplying your employees can get pricey, especially if different uniforms are required for different seasons and asking employees to pay for them can be an employment deterrent.

• Advertising:  In direct opposition to this being a “pro”, employees wearing uniform outside of business hours displaying poor behavior is not good advertising to have.

Whatever way you go, uniforms have pros and cons.  Consider the pros and the cons before implementation.  You may wish to offer a ‘compromise’.  Consider a uniform that gives employees a chance to express their individuality, while still having a standard.  For example, Target allows employees to wear their choice of an appropriate solid red top with khakis.  This shows that the company appreciates the individual, while still maintaining a collective identity for its employees. 

Having easy to read and understand policies and procedures can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. strategic HR, inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

Multicolored wheel divided into 7 equal sections Recruitment, Training and Development, Benifits and Compensation, Communicating, Employee Relations, Recordkeeping, and Health safety and security with Legal compliance written on the outer edge and company strategy in the center employee relations is emphasized

Making A Drug Free Workplace Exception

Question:

We recently acquired a company. We are a drug free workplace and conducted drug screens across the entire workforce for the new company. One employee did not pass, however, he was a top performer and highly recommended by the management of the company we acquired. Our policy does say failure to pass the drug screen could result in ‘discipline up to and including termination’. Can we make an exception? If so, what do we need to do?

Answer:

Yes – it is fine to make an exception, but it is important to document that exception!! Plus, you’ll want to let the employee know you are giving him a second chance and encourage him to visit your EAP or a rehabilitation service. You will likely want to test the employee again but keep in mind it does take awhile to get certain drugs out of the body. It would be a good idea to wait at least 60 or even 90 days before retesting.

Do difficult situations with employees keep you awake at night? Strategic HR, inc. understands how conflicts with employees can make or break your day (or a good night’s sleep). Call us when you encounter a difficult situation – we can help coach your managers, suggest solutions or advise you on a specific problem. Learn more about our Employee Relations services by visiting our Employee Relations page.

 

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Preventing A Hostile Environment

Question:

We’re hearing a lot about hostile work environments and bullying. What can we do to prevent a hostile work environment and harassment claims?

Answer:

Recent court decisions illustrate the need for employers to elevate all types of harassment to the list of important workplace issues. It is virtually impossible for employers to monitor or control all communications or workplace conduct especially with the increase in popularity of social networking sites (like Facebook or Twitter) and activities (blogging, etc.). However, there are some practical suggestions for preventing hostile work environment claims.

  • Anti-Harassment Policy. Implement a policy that prohibits sexual harassment and harassment based on other protected classifications. It should specifically list the other protected classifications, including examples of the type of conduct that is prohibited by managers, supervisors, employees, customers, and third parties. Update your electronic communications policy to reflect new technological trends as well.
  • Complaint Procedure. The policy must include a complaint procedure that provides for more than one option for filing a complaint so that an employee does not have to complain to a supervisor or other person who may be involved in the harassment. The policy should also contain a strong “anti-retaliation” statement, so employees will not hesitate to file a complaint and will feel confident in using the procedure.
  • Distribution and Communication. Employers should distribute and communicate the policy to all employees, and the employees should be given an opportunity to ask questions. Each employee should be required to sign a verification acknowledging that the policy has been read and understood.
  • Education. In addition to providing the employees the policy during their orientation, it is also helpful to provide periodic refresher information.
  • Supervisor Training. Managers and supervisors are relied upon to be the “eyes and ears” of the company in case inappropriate conduct is taking place, so employers should carefully select individuals for these positions who will treat employees fairly and avoid inappropriate conduct. It is critical that supervisors receive additional training to educate them about their important role in preventing harassment in the workplace.  Consider prohibiting management from “friending” other employees.
  • Investigating a Complaint. Upon receipt of a complaint of harassment or when an employer has reason to believe that a potentially harassing situation has occurred, the employer must act promptly. The employer must investigate all complaints completely and objectively. Of course, the employee making a complaint should be notified as to the outcome of the investigation once a final decision has been made.
  • Taking Appropriate Action. If the investigation results in a finding that harassment occurred, action must be taken so that the harassment is eliminated and does not reoccur. This may consist of disciplinary action including discharge, or other corrective action such as training.

You can never be 100% certain that a hostile situation won’t ever occur, but by putting the proper policies in place you can be sure that you are doing everything possible to help prevent it.

Having easy to read and understand policies and procedures can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. Strategic HR, inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

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Handling Sensitive Rumors

Question:

A past employee spread rumors as she left employment that she made $5 more an hour than she really did. This has fueled further discussion among the employees left behind who are continuing to compare and discuss their pay. How do I handle that?

Answer:

As an employer, we cannot be afraid to address behaviors that take away from a harmonious work environment, however, it is important to keep in mind that some conversation is “protected”. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) contains a provision, Section 7 (29 U.S.C. § 157), that gives all employees the right to “engage in concerted activities”, including the right to discuss their terms and conditions of employment with each other. This means that employees are able to have discussions about work hours, pay, and benefits – it is within their right – and it is protected.

What is not right and can be disciplined is the concept of spending work hours (unproductive time) having these discussions. Being a time waster is not appropriate and can be addressed from a disciplinary standpoint if necessary. In addition, companies can have policies regarding behaviors that cause discord (and threatens workplace harmony) and take action on those behaviors, not necessarily the topic of discussion – only the behavior as a violation of the code of conduct.

Finally, as an employer we should be comfortable with discussions of pay and benefits. Let employees know what the policies are around compensation, let them know how/if salary levels are established and how market equities are ensured (as an example). Employees who are free to approach management and have discussions about those types of topics, are less likely to engage in gossip because they know the facts. Comfort in how compensation and benefit decisions are made and discussing organization practice around such a topic removes the “smoke and mirrors” and clarifies issues in employees’ minds. Limiting the “excuse” for the rumor-mill…at least in the area of compensation and benefits…

* Need a one-stop shop for HR reference? Sit in on our Virtual HR demo – call Robin today! *

One of the most difficult aspects of human resources management is dealing with people. Are you getting inundated with complaints about managers or employees that take you away from more pressing matters? Are you looking for an on-going solution to combat these issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Reward and Recognition

Question:

Our company has been focused on productivity lately. What are your thoughts on productivity as it relates to reward and recognition?

Answer:

Employees like being recognized. Those that feel valued are often the most productive and engaged in the workforce. The great thing about reward and recognition is that the ‘reward’ doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary (though that is always appreciated too). Giving praise for a project well done or extra effort given is not only cost effective but easy to do, once you get into the habit. While simply acknowledging a job well done is a great first step, try to make the recognition public so that other employees can join in the celebration, providing their own praise, and also see that hard efforts are rewarded.

What are some things to provide recognition for?

  • Extra effort – getting a project or task done before the deadline or under budget
  • Providing great customer service – to both internal or external customers
  • Compliments give from another department, a vendor or even a customer – this seems simple enough, but often times these thanks are filed away in the employment file and forgotten

How you choose to recognize or reward the efforts will often depend on the magnitude of the accomplishment or the impact to the company. Some ideas to consider:

  • Putting accomplishments in the company newsletter or other public forum
  • Sending a hand-written Thank You note
  • Sharing accomplishments with others during a staff meeting
  • Recognition as Employee of the month
  • Rewarding with money or gift cards
  • Bringing in treats, lunch or taking a special outing as a team
  • Offering to pay for continuing education, training event or seminar
  • Giving the employee more responsibility or mentoring opportunities

As with most things HR, be sure to document in the employee’s file those times when you offered praise and recognition. We definitely don’t recommend saving the accolades to present during a regular performance review (recognize them at the time the event happens) – but having them documented and being able to again refer to them during the review is a great idea and a great way to enforce that you do indeed appreciate their hard work.

Next week is Administrative Professionals Week (always the last full week of April). Be sure to take some time to thank your administrative staff by recognizing their hard work. Not only is it important to recognize them during this specially designated week of recognition, but be sure to show your thanks throughout the year.

Employee recognition is just one aspect of Employee Relations, but is vital to maintaining an engaged and productive workforce that is content to continue employment with the company for many years. We love creating no cost/low cost ideas for improving productivity and impacting employee engagement and retention. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can assist you with ideas for improving your productivity and handling other Employee Relations issues.

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Small Necessities Laws

Question:

What is the Small Necessities Leave Act and should I be concerned about it?

Answer:

The Small Necessities Leave Act (SNLA) gives employees the right to take leave for family obligations providing a limited number of hours annually, covering specific activities that are not included under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – such as for parents to attend school-related events and activities for their children. The hours of leave allowed under the SNLA is in addition to the 12 weeks leave allowed under the FMLA. Additionally, the hours do not need to be taken all at once, but can be taken intermittently, as long as it does not exceed the allowed maximum as mandated by the state.

Only a small number of states offer SNLA, these include:

  • California – 40 hours
  • DC – 24 hours
  • Illinois – 8 hours
  • Louisiana – 16 hours
  • Massachusetts – 24 hours
  • Minnesota – 16 hours
  • North Carolina – 4 hours
  • Rhode Island – 10 hours
  • Vermont – 12 hours
  • Nevada makes it unlawful to terminate an employee for using leave to attend a child’s school-related activities.

To be eligible for the SNLA an employee must have been employed with employer for at least 12 months, having actually worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months with that employer, and be employed at a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

SNLA can be taken to:

  • Participate in school activities directly related to the educational advancement of the employee’s child(ren), such as for parent-teacher conferences or interviewing for a new school.
  • Accompany the child(ren) of the employee to routine medical or dental appointments, such as checkups or vaccinations.
  • Accompany an elderly relative of the employee to routine medical or dental appointments or appointments for other professional services related to the elder’s care, such as interviewing at nursing homes or group homes.

The employee must give seven days’ notice of intent to take such a leave if the leave is foreseeable. If the need for the leave is not foreseeable, the employee must give notice as soon as practicable. Leave can be calendar or fiscal year.

The SNLA leave is generally unpaid leave but, similar to the FMLA, employees may use accrued paid time and have the leave paid or the employer may require that the employee use such accrued time.

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Measuring Change Impact on Performance

Question:

What’s the impact of changes such as employee relations strategies, policies, and practices on organizational performance?

Answer:

The core answer to your question is that organizations that identify the appropriate employee relations strategies, policies, and practices WILL have ONLY a positive impact on their performance. These are the organizations that we already see named as “best places to work” or “employer of choice”. They’ve realized the benefit and competitive advantage that these changes can have to the overall success of their organization.

Below is a list of some of the key changes observed in organizational strategies over the years:

  • Heightened sensitivity to age differences in terms of recruiting, employee development, and employee relations policies.
  • More flexibility in work structure and policies such as dress code, telecommuting, and flexible hours.
  • Tailored rewards and recognition, especially in consideration of differences across generations.
  • Increased front-line supervisory training and development.

Changing workforce demographics have driven the need for organizational change across the U.S. More women are entering, and staying in, the workforce and now comprise about 58% of the total workforce in our country. We now have five generations in the workforce, with medical technology allowing older workers to be healthy enough to stay well past the historical age 65 should they choose to do so. These generations are very different with regard to their motivations and interests. Cultural diversity is also growing in organizations across the country because technology has made us all global. In short, employee relations policies and strategies have had to evolve to take these demographic changes into account.

Results we’ve observed in our client organizations include enhanced recruiting capability in a highly competitive environment; retention of high-performing employees; and increased and sustained profitability driven by engaged, highly motivated workers. 

We’ve found that companies are becoming very creative when it comes to offering rewards and recognition targeted at retaining their best and brightest employees. Concierge services such as dry cleaning have been highly successful as perks that entice employees of all ages to continue their employment. Posting jobs online on sites that cater to different age groups has become a critical approach towards obtaining a recruiting advantage. In short, companies that are willing to be innovative in terms of recruitment and retention strategies have reaped the result of finding and keeping excellent employees who in turn drive profits. What works for one organization does not necessarily work for every organization. It’s important to figure out what your employees want and need that will help your organization reap the results.

Employee recognition is just one aspect of Employee Relations. In a nutshell, Employee Relations is all about how employers interact with employees to help them remain an engaged and productive employee that is content to continue employment with the company for many years. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can assist you with the Employee Relations issues you may have.

 

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Workplace Bullying

Question:

One of our employees is complaining that they are being bullied by a senior manager. What do we do or how should I coach the employee to handle the situation?

Answer:

Unfortunately, there is no law protecting an employee against bullying, UNLESS it turns into a hostile work environment protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967, and various other pieces of legislation. This would be the case, for example, if the senior manager is ONLY bullying female employees.

Bullying comes in many different forms – yelling, screaming, or using profanity, to more subtle manipulation or sabotaging of someone’s work. Like harassment, employees are encouraged to address the inappropriateness or uncomfortable feeling created by the behavior with the individual doing the bullying, of course maintaining their own level of professionalism. If that is ineffective and nothing changes, employees need to go to Human Resources.

HR then needs to decide if the culture is one to handle the situation directly with the manager or work with the manager’s boss to address. While this area has little legal support, some experts do recommend investigation of bullying complaints, if nothing else, to support a position of zero tolerance and promoting a positive work environment.

Unfortunately, bullying, even verbal yelling and/or abuse, will result in low morale for the employee and everyone else exposed to the bullying, which ultimately impacts productivity. It can cause stellar employees to leave for a better work environment. And, it could lead to a lawsuit for hostile work environment.

If the manager isn’t willing to change, your organization needs to decide to either take action or allow the situation play out and deal with the consequences.

During this week spotlighting “Freedom from Workplace Bullies”, let your employees know you support efforts to create a bully-free workplace. Download this free flier to post at work.

Did you know that most employees leave their jobs because of their managers, not their employers? Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-manager related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in managing employment relations and coaching employees, and managers, on how to resolve conflicts. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

 

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What is competency mapping?

Question:

My company is undertaking a Job Evaluation exercise along with competency mapping. Competency mapping is an area which has been least explored in India. What can you tell me about it?

Answer:

Competency Mapping is a process of identifying key competencies for an organization and/or a job and incorporating those competencies throughout the various processes (i.e. job evaluation, training, recruitment) of the organization. A competency is defined as a behavior (i.e. communication, leadership) rather than a skill or ability.

The steps involved in competency mapping with an end result of job evaluation include the following:

  1. Conduct a job analysis by asking incumbents to complete a position information questionnaire (PIQ). The PIQ can be provided for incumbents to complete, or you can conduct one-on-one interviews using the PIQ as a guide. The primary goal is to gather from incumbents what they feel are the key behaviors necessary to perform their respective jobs.
  2. Using the results of the job analysis, you are ready to develop a competency based job description. This is developed by carefully analyzing the input from the represented group of incumbents and converting it to standard competencies.
  3. With a competency based job description, you are on your way to begin mapping the competencies throughout your HR processes. The competencies of the respective job description become your factors for assessment on the performance evaluation. Using competencies will help guide you to perform more objective evaluations based on displayed or not displayed behaviors.
  4. Taking the competency mapping one step further, you can use the results of your evaluation to identify in what competencies individuals need additional development or training. This will help you focus your training needs on the goals of the position and company and help your employees develop toward the ultimate success of the organization.

To help you with the implementation of these steps and to learn more about competency mapping, we recommend further reading the following resources:

The Art and Science of Competency Models: Pinpointing Critical Success Factors in Organizations by Richard Lepsinger, Anntoinette D. Lucia

Building Robust Competencies: Linking Human Resource Systems to Organizational Strategies by Paul C. Green

Human Resources Champion by David Ulrich

This question was original posted on e-HResources.com.

With the recovering economy are you worried your top performers will soon be leaving for a new and different opportunity? Are you looking for a retention method that will ALSO bolster your productivity levels and bottom line? Let strategic HR, inc. help create and implement the perfect retention strategy via training and development. We have the expertise to conduct a Needs Assessment, Job Analysis, revamp your aging Job Descriptions and/or to recommend training options for your staff. Visit our Training & Development page to learn how we can help you implement a successful training session.

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Poor Performance Review Prompts Legal Action

Question:

My employee sent me a scathing email in response to a performance evaluation I just gave her. She has contacted her attorney and has threatened to quit. At this point I just want to fire her – how should I respond?

Answer:

As tempting as it may be to terminate this employee immediately, it is critical that you keep a level head and do your due diligence. You don’t want to let the fact that the employee has called an attorney force you into a hasty decision you may regret.

A less than stellar performance evaluation is never easy to deal with for either party, but also should never be a surprise to the employee. Whether an attorney is involved or not, make sure you have all your documentation in place to support your evaluation and any further actions. View your documentation with a critical eye – pretend you are a judge and jury. Hopefully your supervisors are well trained in documentation and you have a trail detailing the employee’s performance history and how it has been addressed.

This is where that ongoing feedback (and documentation) is invaluable. Is there anything else you can and/or should do to help the employee be successful? Is a Performance Improvement Plan warranted? If you and your managers have done due diligence, your actions should hold up in court. Any employee can contact an attorney for any reason. Our role as HR professionals is to always protect our companies’ best interests, on the assumption that employees will contact their attorney, and be ready for any situation.

Having good employee relations is key to effectively managing (and retaining) your workforce. Employees want to feel valued and may not perform up to standards, or stick around very long, if they don’t feel they are needed. Strategic HR, inc. understands the value of your workforce and having solid Employee Relations. We’ve helped companies create reward and recognition programs and have coached managers on providing support and mentoring to their employees. Learn how we can help you with your Employee Relations needs by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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How do we deal with employee body odor?

Question:

We have an employee with strong body odor and other staff feel it is making them ill at work. How do we address such a sensitive topic?

Answer:

Addressing personal care issues that affect others at work can be difficult conversations to have. Keep in mind the offending employee may not be aware that they have an odor problem, they may have a medical condition, or it may be the result of customs or cultures. Regardless, to keep harmony among your staff the situation needs to be addressed in a sensitive manner.

Be sure to take the employee to a private area to speak. It is also important to be clear in the reason for the conversation, but also be sensitive to the embarrassment it might cause the employee to have such a personal a discussion with their manager or human resources. The most direct route is best. State the problem, “It has been brought to my attention that you have a strong body odor”, and ask a follow up question to allow them the opportunity to share any possible reasons for the situation, “Do you have a health condition or a custom that might be contributing to excessive body odor?” If a health condition is present you will need to determine if there is an issue under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) that will need to be accommodated in some way. If the cause is determined to be due to hygiene issues, the employee should be coached to work on their hygiene, focusing on the connection to the health and well being of themselves and others around them. If there is a company policy addressing appearance and cleanliness, this can be referenced as a guideline for the employee to follow and to emphasize the connection of the discussion to company policy versus a personal attack.

In any case, be considerate and handle the issue with discretion. This can be one of the toughest HR conversations you may have and in most instances it is just as hard for the receiver.

Having healthy employees is a key reason for developing a company wellness program, but also give consideration to the cost savings. Not only does a healthy workforce impact costs related to ever increasing health care expenses, but also impacts other expenses that are being trimmed as the economy necessitates a tightening of the belt in all areas of the company. Visit our Health, Safety & Security page to learn how we can assist you with issues surrounding the health and safety of your workforce.

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Impact Of Miscarriage On Leave

Question:

We had an employee request, and was granted, maternity leave under our leave policy.  After the leave was granted, she had a miscarriage. How should this impact the maternity leave and how long should we allow her to be out?

Answer:

From a legal perspective, maternity leave falls under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible employees 12 weeks of job protected leave for the birth, adoption or placement of a child, the employee’s own serious health condition, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. The above circumstance would most likely qualify as leave taken for the employee’s own serious health condition. To be covered, you will need to have the employee obtain certification from her health care provider. The length of time she takes for leave, up to the 12 weeks, may largely be determined by when her doctor releases her. Other benefit programs that may come into play in this situation could be short term disability and your Employee Assistance Plan, if you have either of these in place.

Be sure to review your Maternity Leave Policy to make sure it is in compliance with FMLA regulations. The Department of Labor (www.dol.gov) offers guidance for managing FMLA claims and our team at strategic HR inc. can also assist you with this and other compliance questions.

One of the stickiest aspects of human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations and can help coach you through challenging employee relation issues. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Should I be worrying about employee retention?

Question:

Should I really be worried about employee retention during economic downturns when unemployment numbers are so high?

Answer:

YES!!!

It is still a shock to the system when we give presentations to HR professionals and small business owners and ask “what are you doing about retention?” and we get these looks like “retention” why would I need to do anything about retention? And there is always someone in the crowd that announces out loud “we are all just lucky to even HAVE jobs”. Dare we repeat the recent survey results by the Harvard Business review that found 25% of the top performers at companies are saying that they plan to leave their companies within the next year?

Do you find that hard to believe? Better start believing itit is a reality! We’ve had a number of managers call and report it is already happening to them. To make matters worse, managers feel their hands are tied because their companies are taking the defensive position ”let them quit and try to find another job someplace else”. Guess what? They didand, the ones leaving WERE the top performers! Can you afford to lose your best employees?

So, to ask again “what are you doing about retention?” Yes, some people may be lucky to have a job, but in other cases YOU are lucky you have them as employees. It’s time to start treating your employees in a manner that shows they are indeed valuable. Your business may not be in the position to reinstate the salary you had to cut, give the raise you put off, or offer the 401k match you eliminated, but can you do some things to improve the work environment? Easy things, such as:

  • Providing recognition for sticking with the company during these rough times.
  • Sharing the plan of where an employee fits into the big picture going forward.
  • Seeking the opinions of employees when it comes to helping the company move forward and grow.
  • Setting and sharing some milestones for what it may take before an employee can see an increase in salary again.
  • Asking what is important to the employee that keeps him/her at your company.
  • Determining if you have the right people managing the employees to keep everyone motivated and excited about being a part of the company going forward.
  • Doing things that differentiate between the good employees and the mediocre employees to show that it matters.

Turnover is expensive. It can cost your business as much as 50 – 150% of the annual salary of your lost employee. Can you afford that as your business recovers? What are you doing to manage your employees in the current economy to avoid losing your star performers?

Are daily HR issues interfering with your ability to focus on the strategic matters of your company? Do you find yourself at odds with the directives of the leadership team? Strategic HR, inc. knows how integral human resources is to the health of your organization and can assist you with HR strategy needs. Visit our HR Strategy page to learn how we can assist you with your strategy and help align your goals. 

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Diapers to Dentures: Who Is Managing Who?

by Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Once upon a time, you would only see older workers managing the younger workers – NOT anymore! And boy is this creating tension in the workplace. Since the publication of our book, Bridging the Generation Gap, Linda and I continue to receive calls from publications and organizations asking “How can we get the younger boss of an older worker relationship to happen in harmony?” As I tell my two children, it takes two to tango and in this case it will take two to make this relationship work.

The very first step towards making the younger boss/older worker relationship work is to accept the situation for what it is and stop kicking and screaming! The younger boss is the boss and wouldn’t be the boss if he or she were not qualified – diapers or no diapers. At the same time, a boss is only as strong as his or her direct reports. The younger boss needs to respect the older worker for the years of experience and expertise that he/she brings to the table, which will help to make the team shine – dentures or no dentures. If both individuals can accept that they each have something unique to bring to the table, then one big hurdle has been overcome.

A second hurdle that must be overcome is overall RESPECT!!! Too often in any situation, the young make the old feel “ooold” and the old make the young feel like a kid out of his sandbox. There is no place for this in the workplace. Younger workers may want a sense of family but they are not looking for parents. In fact, the younger generations call these hovering people “pseudo parents”  or “helicopter parents.” Younger workers, including younger bosses, don’t want older workers to take them under their wing and treat them like kids and don’t want jokes or comments that make them feel like the kid still in “diapers.” Likewise, the older workers want to be treated with respect as well. They want respect for their years of experience and want younger workers to know that their brains do still work. Older workers want to share their experiences so you don’t have to recreate the wheel. Skip the comments that make them feel like they are so old they need to be put out to pasture.

Another key issue that must be overcome for the younger boss/older worker relationship to work is communication. Yes, we actually all do speak the same language; it’s just the method, time, and frequency of communication can vary a great deal by generation. Therefore, it is important to clarify the communication styles of the younger boss and older worker up front to ensure both individuals are on the same page. For example, younger generations tend to use instant messaging and email much more often, whereas the older generations typically like face to face or phone conversations. The older generations are more likely to want collaboration on issues, which requires more communication versus the younger generations who take a more hands off independent approach requiring less communication or simple email updates. Finally, both generations need to agree on how to handle communications after hours. You may find a very different opinion between the generations on this issue but knowing the opinions will avoid any conflict.

Finally, as a Gen Xer, I myself have managed older workers and observed my peers do the same. There are some very basic steps you can take that will make you a more successful younger boss and become seen as partner rather than the kid in “diapers.” To begin with, your first impression is absolutely critical. You need to dress the part of a leader – dress to impress but not over impress. This means you should be dressed one step up from everyone else you supervise. Come prepared with a plan but include your team in the plan either by meeting with them as a group or connecting one on one depending on your comfort level or the group dynamics. Next, set very clear expectations with each of your direct reports so you both are on the same page working toward the same goals. This upfront communication also helps avoid conflicts down the road. Finally, don’t make the older generations conform to you; respect them for the way they are. Their generational differences will reveal unique perspectives and ideas that you might not think of.

Having worked often with older workers and through our research for Bridging the Generation Gap, we learned many ideas to help the older worker as well. The first and toughest step will be to let the younger boss manage, even if it is different than the way you’d do it. Second, turn on those listening skills and really listen to what the younger boss has to say. Generally, younger workers are very connected to the mission and vision of the company, which we can all resonate with; you’ll be able to connect too – I promise. Be prepared for a very hands off management style and identify ways that will help you work with this type of style. For example, try to use email a little more. Finally, get to know the younger generation. Linda Gravett actually said that diving into some of the periodicals, websites, and TV shows that the younger generations like has helped her to understand and relate to us better.

Remember, whether you are the younger boss or the older worker, you both are working for the same company with the same vision, mission and goals. You are serving the same customers. You may each go about doing things a little differently but your end results will be the same. The key is by working together you can be more successful whether or not you are from the diaper or denture generation.

Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant is President of Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have any questions or comments about this article, you may contact Robin at Robin@strategicHRinc.com.

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Are You Ready For The “What If”? – Get Your Plans In Order

By Debbie Hatke, MA, SPHR

Last week Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced he was taking a leave of absence for health reasons. This announcement rocked the investment world and has many, including Apple employees, wondering what the future is for Apple with its dynamic, charismatic and very visible leader missing from the helm. What if he doesn’t return?

Hopefully Apple has a succession plan in place.

In the fall of 2008 the Tri-State area was whipped into submission by a powerful storm that produced winds strong enough to tear off roofs, knock down trees and power lines, and send communities into darkness for days. Many companies suffered as well, as the lack of power meant they could not open for business as usual. What if that happens again?

Hopefully your company has an emergency plan in place.

According to a recent Right Management survey of 1,400 US workers many companies may lose some of their top employees in 2011. Seems that the past few years of downsizing, stagnant wages and constantly doing more with less has taken its toll and employee discontent is rising. If the survey is accurate 84% of current employees could seek new jobs if the job market picks up. What if the employee leaving is one of your key employees?

Hopefully you have a retention plan in place.

If you ask any human resources professional what they consider to be their main function at their organization, you will get many answers: generalist, manager, recruiter, compensation specialist, benefits administrator, trainer, safety officer, counselor, mentor. I doubt that any of them will respond “I’m a planner”. But planning plays an integral part of human resources and is vital to how we to react to changes within our organization, whether those changes are anticipated or not. The beginning of the new year is a time when many organizations present their corporate strategy by sharing the goals and objectives for the coming year (or for a few years into the future). Now too is the time for human resources to reevaluate, revise and renew their HR strategies and “What If” plans.

Let me share what I learned in Strategic Planning 101 (I actually have a degree in planning). These are the three P’s of planning:

  1. Policies define an organization’s overarching strategic direction. They are typically generic, to-the-point, and provide general direction. They define the “What” and the “Why”. Policies can often be referred to as Strategies. For example:
    • It is our company policy not to employ persons who use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol. As such we reserve the right to require employees to submit to testing for drug and/or alcohol use as a continuing condition of employment as deemed necessary to the safe and efficient operation of our company.
  2. Plans are more tactical in nature. They can be, and often are, changed and serve as a guide for how you will achieve the stated policy. Plans are also referred to as Tactics (they are also confusingly called “Policies”). For example:
    • In accordance with our drug and alcohol policy, random drug and alcohol screening shall take place regularly. Human Resources will be responsible for coordinating random drug screening of employees with our third party vendor AcuScreen.
  3. Processes or Procedures define the implementation steps. They provide the framework for how specifically things are to be done – the “Who, What, When and How”. These are specific actions or tasks that execute the plan. Often the processes are included within the plan. For example:
    • Human Resources will select and notify the employee to be screened using the random selection process.
    • Selected employee will be sent a copy of the Drug Policy, a lab form and instructions for making an appointment with the screening vendor. Etc.

It is not critical that what you call your policies, plans, procedures, or processes match those of other organizations or adhere to the definitions above; only that you define and communicate your particular methodology to your organization and, more importantly, that they are written and followed.

The three examples provided above (succession plan, emergency plan and retention plan) are all instances where human resources needs to pull out their “Planning Manuals” and plan for the “What If”. For succession planning, that means evaluating the KSAs of current employees to determine if your next CEO, CFO or CIO is among them. For an emergency plan it can mean making sure emergency documents are up-to-date and the emergency chain of command isn’t “broken”. And for a retention plan it might mean taking the pulse of your organization to gauge employee satisfaction and interviewing terminating employees to find causality in turnover.

For some organizations, the policies and plans created to address these issues are already in place, the procedures may just need to be updated to reflect changes in staff, changes in job responsibility or changes in information. Now is a great time to review those policies and make sure they still reflect the needs of the organization, especially if the strategic direction of the organization has changed. Also review them with an eye toward the economic climate and other external factors (such as legal compliance) which may affect the policy or resulting plans.

For others, though, these policies or plans have yet to be written. But there’s no time like the present to begin. Stay tuned to learn more about strategic planning and policy development.

Debbie Hatke, MA, SPHR is a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant and Talent Strategy Manager with Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have questions or comments about this article, you can contact Debbie at Debbie@strategicHRinc.com.

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Performance Management: The Individual Strategic Plan

by Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR

Performance management has become an ever-increasing critical tool to success for businesses. Within the last year we have experienced both a booming economy as well as a recession; a historically low unemployment rate combined with massive layoffs and business closings. But the bottom line to all of this is people! AND, we are human and as such are typically much more productive when we have clear goals, expectations, and feedback.

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where-” said Alice

“Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

     – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

If you have had the opportunity to attend one of my strategic planning sessions, you’ve seen me use this quote in reference to developing a company or department’s strategic plan. But, a strategic plan is a waste of time and effort if it does not get communicated and tied to the performance of all employees through Individual Strategic Plans. Whether this is a formal process or informal process depends a great deal on your particular organization.

Let’s start with the informal process… If your organization can effectively communicate and link the strategic goals of the organization to each individual’s goals AND regularly provide feedback to an employee, then you may be able to succeed without a formal performance management tool. Even with an informal process, you will need to develop a system with specific checkpoints to be sure the communication is constant and two-way to ensure that the employee is on-track and getting both positive and constructive feedback in a timely manner.

If the world were perfect, I would encourage everyone to use an informal process; however, time seems to get the best of us. Without a formal process, goals are unclear at best, and feedback is rare. To facilitate a process that is successful for both the employee and the organization, a formal performance management system can “work for you.” A well-designed performance management system should make your job easier not more cumbersome.

To begin developing a system or any new program or initiative, I like to use Development Dimension International’s (DDI) six Checkpoints for Implementation:

  1. OUTCOMES — What results am I looking for?
    • For your performance management system, you’ll need to think about what you hope to gain from the system. For example: increased productivity, improved retention, increased employee morale, and improved communications.
  2. BENEFITS — Why is this important? (Payoff — What’s in it for me?)
    • Both the company and the employee need to know why they are doing this in order to feel ownership for the system. Your organization may see the benefits as some of the outcomes listed above, as well as a method for linking individual performance to the organization’s performance. Individuals may see it as a way to continue to develop and grow with the organization while adding value back to the company. Remember, growth opportunities and meaningful work are two of the top reasons employees leave their jobs.
  3. BARRIERS — What might prevent me from being successful?
    • In order to ensure the success of your system, you need to anticipate any barriers and identify what you will do to prevent or minimize the impact of those barriers. Some examples may be: resistance to change, time constraints, or lack of management support.
  4. SUPPORT — What resources are available?
    • You’ll need to clearly identify what resources or individuals are available to help you develop and implement the system. Once you have identified your resources, you’ll want to include them in the process as much as possible in order to obtain their buy-in and benefit from what they can offer. Some examples of support are: top management, employees, expert consults, other organizations, budget, and customer needs.
  5. APPROACH — What steps must I take to achieve my goals? (Be specific — who, when, duration, etc.)
    • By identifying the outcomes, benefits, barriers, and supports, you will be better able to begin mapping out the approach for developing and implementing your performance management system. Some questions you may want to consider include:
      1. What exactly do you need formalized to help facilitate goal setting, feedback, and documentation?
        • Many times organizations assume performance management is the evaluation at the end of the review period. However, an effective performance management system begins with the development of a performance plan at the BEGINNING of the evaluation period. This performance plan or individual strategic plan is a living document that may need updating throughout the plan year.In general, systems should include both competencies and goals. With most of my clients, we develop a group of core competencies or behaviors that mirror the values of the organization. Plus, we develop individualized goals for each employee that are tied to the goals of the business.There are many canned and customizable systems out there that can help you identify what you want to include in your system. To help you generate ideas, you may want to seek samples from other companies or resources (i.e. Performance Appraisals: A Collection of Samples by SHRM Information Center ~$35.00 or Performance Impact by KnowledgePoint). Be sure any piece of information you include on the form adds value rather than creates work for others. Plus, be sure the form is a tool not a rule!
      2. How often do you need to formally discuss goals and feedback versus informally?
        • Like your business plan, a performance plan is a living document and the goals and feedback should be ongoing and constant. However, it often takes a formal get-together for this to actually happen. If your organization is not one to proactively meet throughout the plan year, then a formal meeting, even if short, should be arranged at least quarterly to ensure an employee is getting timely feedback and still supporting both their individual and the organization’s strategic plan(s). Plus, if you summarize this quarterly meeting your end of the year review will be a breeze.
      3. Who needs to be trained on performance management and coaching?
        • We all could benefit from training on performance management and coaching. Even if you are the best manager, a refresher on performance management simply helps you continuously grow as a proactive manager. Formal training can also help ensure all managers are working with the same set of tools, including assistance with the seeming struggle about how to be a manager and a coach at the same time. Learning what has been successful and not successful with others will help everyone in the organization succeed. 
      4. What will you do to involve both employees and management in the process?
        • Employees and supervisors will not take the time for performance planning and reviews if management does not support it. Management has to realize the value added (i.e. increased productivity, improved morale, retention) of performance management and demonstrate their support of the system to all employees. This may require involving a key management player in the development and implementation of the system.Like management, employees will be more encouraged to take the feedback and direction of performance management seriously if they are involved with the development of the system. To do this, you can either survey employees to identify their needs or include them in a team tasked to evaluate and develop a program. COMMUNICATE!!! 
      5. How will the system be tied to compensation?
        • Of course, any system is going to be much more open and honest when there is little or no connection to pay. The catch is, that you need to have some way to measure employee performance, in order to provide performance based increases. You’ll need to develop a clear philosophy and supporting policy for merit increases. Because this will depend on your budget and values, each organization may have a totally different philosophy and policy on pay increases. By making this policy clear and communicating it up front, the link to compensation will have a better chance of being both objective and effective. 
  6. EVALUATION — How will I know when I’ve reached my goal?
    • Too often this last checkpoint in implementation is skipped. It is very important for you to constantly evaluate your program. Some ways you can do this is through focus groups, employee surveys, or interviewing management. The key is to schedule it and just do it!

Remember, you don’t want your employees feeling like Alice did in Alice in Wonderland. You need to be sure you are communicating the expectations and goals of the organization and tying them to each employee’s Individual Strategic Plan in order to realize success. Whether this is a formal or an informal process doesn’t matter as long as you are doing it!!

Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant is President of Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have any questions, wish to share your comments, or your organization needs individualized help developing a successful performance management system, you can contact Robin at 513-697-9855 or Robin@strategicHRinc.com for more details.

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Making Performance Appraisals Work

by Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR

Because I was able to attend the annual SHRM Conference in Las Vegas on June 25 – 28, I wanted to share with you some of what I learned from the presentation on “Making Performance Appraisals Work” presented by Dick Grote, President of Grote Consulting Group and author of Discipline Without Punishment.

In Mr. Grote’s opinion, there are basically four phases to performance management:

Phase 1: Performance Planning

Phase 2: Execution

Phase 3: Performance Assessment

Phase 4: Performance Review

The goal of all four phases is to help an organization obtain their mission, vision, and values. These four phases then become a yearly cycle that should include a mid-year review.

In Phase 1, Performance Plan, Mr. Grote discussed two components necessary to effective performance planning: core competencies and measurements. The core competencies are no more than 4 – 6 items that cover basically what the employee does. The measurement piece helps an employee answer “how they know that they have accomplished these items?” Generally, you have four measures for output: quality, quantity, cost, and timeliness. Mr. Grote cautioned us to not be so rigid that we don’t realize an accomplishment that isn’t clearly identified.

In Phase 2, Execution, the employee actually implements the plan identified in Phase 1 with the motivational support of his or her manager. At this point, Mr. Grote asked the participants to think about the job that they enjoyed the most (not necessarily related to their current job/career). Once we had identified that job, he then asked us to determine why it was the most enjoyable. As you can imagine, the answers were very broad but all had a similar theme – recognition, achievement, learning, the work itself, and growth. Not many said that it was job security, benefits, or salary.

Unfortunately, because of time, Mr. Grote’s presentation was cut short and he was unable to elaborate on the third and fourth phases. However, these remaining two phases are as critical to the cycle as the first two. In Phase 3, Performance Assessment, we always recommend that both the employee and the manager separately assess how the employee has performed relative to the goals set in Phase 1. This helps both the employee and manager identify strengths and developmental needs for the next performance plan. With this assessment complete, Phase 4, Performance Review, can begin. It is important for the manager and employee to both share how well the employee has performed. We recommend that the manager be honest about this feedback and document both positive and negative results.

As you can tell, this is a time consuming process but is very critical to the success of an organization. How can you expect your roses or daisies to help your company reach their mission, vision, and values without feedback on what they are doing right and wrong to meet those goals?

Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant is President of Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have any questions or wish to share your comments or success stories, you may contact Robin at Robin@strategicHRinc.com.

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Employers BE(a)WARE…A look at employment-related litigation during tough economic times

by Patti Dunham, MBA, MA, SPHR

The economy may be resulting in a lot of downsizing for most organizations but the exception to that rule appears to be with employee plaintiff attorneys. The economy, change in political administration, and changes in legislation all appear to be adding fuel to the fire in terms of employment litigation. Now is the time for employers to be(a)ware and ensure that the employment actions they take, even more than before, are well documented and defendable.

I am always a skeptic when people are telling me “it’s worse than ever” or “it has never been like this”. I need proof, I need data. Well, the numbers have started to come in and 2008 shows some interesting trends that should be enough to put us on our toes. As we look to trends to help determine where we have been and potentially where we are going it is interesting to note that 2008 already showed signs of increased employment litigation. Most disturbing is how much of the litigation shows that employees are bypassing the normal reporting processes (i.e. the Department of Labor to report an FLSA violation) and instead filing private lawsuits, in many instances class action lawsuits. The data from the 5th annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report by Seyfarth Shaw, LLP demonstrates this. Most notably the report for 2008 shows:

  • An increase in the number of ERISA class action filings for recovery of 401(k) losses
  • An increase in the number of age related discrimination cases
  • An increase in the number of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) lawsuits
  • An increase in the volume of wage and hour litigation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Many experts anticipate this 2008 trend will continue into 2009 and beyond and that the number of lawsuits as well as the awards associated with them will continue to rise. Why such an increase? Well, there is no doubt that our society as a whole has become somewhat more litigious, however this year gives us increased risks. The most notable is the economic downturn. As employers have to make many more tough decisions – restructuring, hiring ‘only the best’ when filling positions, reducing costs through benefit program changes, etc. employers become more at risk and employees start to ask a lot more questions as concerns about employment impact everyone. In addition to the economic concerns, the government has also expanded the scope of some employment related legislation – specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These changes will no doubt result in challenges to the courts as employees and employers “test” what these expansions and changes in the legislation mean. Finally, there is always a potential increase in the amount of litigation as the result of an administration change. In the past there has been an increase in employment litigation after such a change and it is expected that the next few years will play out the same way as many lawsuits are filed to test out government regulation of workplace issues under the new Obama administration.

As a result of these increased threats, employers should arm themselves and their management staff to protect themselves. What can employers do? Keep it simple – this is the time to go back to the basics when it comes to employment. A few easy actions may be the difference in whether or not you become part of the statistics.

 

  • Train supervisors and managers. These individuals are our first-line of defense (and many times our biggest legal threat) when it comes to employees’ perception of company policies, procedures, and decisions. Be sure they are aware of basic discrimination laws and assist them with increased communication and employee relation skills so they are able to respectfully support company decisions and communicate with employees regarding their concerns or issues. Although Human Resources would always like to be the ones to address employee concerns, our front line managers and supervisors are doing it on a daily basis whether they want to be or not and they should be properly trained on how to handle employee concerns.

 

  • Ensure those involved in the employment process are clearly aware of what they can and cannot do from a legal perspective. Those involved should know and document the process used when restructuring or selecting employees for layoff and then use it – consistently. A clear legally defendable (non-discriminatory) reason when selecting “who goes” is the most important aspect of restructuring. In addition, those involved should be guided by Human Resources to ensure an appropriate message is being delivered when HR isn’t delivering it.

 

  • Maintain a meticulous hiring process. Managers involved in hiring should be even more aware of appropriate interview questions during the employment process to avoid discrimination claims in hiring. With so many people looking for employment, it will be important for hiring managers to look carefully over applications and watch for inflated or fraudulent credentials and to do their homework before selecting candidates.

 

  • Maintain good documentation. We all know that documentation is essential for a good legal defense but also remember it can hurt as well. Train your staff on what good documentation looks like and what to avoid. Remind them that everything is subject to review in a lawsuit – employee warnings, performance evaluations, and even those simple notes we write down on a sticky note and throw in their file. Be(A)ware of what you are putting down into writing and make sure it is objective and defendable.

 

  • Treat employees the way you would like to be treated…the golden rule still stands in employment. Think about how you would like to be treated during these tough times when decisions are so difficult. Treat your employees with dignity and respect at all times – provide notice of layoff if it is reasonable, provide some type of outplacement if you are able.

 

  • Finally, remember to listen to your employees. Employees are more likely to file a claim against employers when they feel like they are ignored or that their concerns are not addressed. Although your message may not always be what they want to hear – allow them to be heard and feel a part of the process.

 

The present downturn in the economy is likely to continue to fuel employment related litigation as well as many other factors. Financial risks of such litigation can be huge and the need to protect ourselves, our managers, and our companies is more important than ever. It is time to go back to the basics as they are still the most valuable steps in helping organizations stay out of court. Employers should BE(a)WARE and arm themselves with these simple means of protection.

 

Patti Dunham is a Sr. Human Resources Consultant with Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have any questions or would like to share your comments about the article, you may contact Patti at Patti@strategicHRinc.com.

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Employee Engagement…From Beginning to End

By Patti Dunham, MA, MBA, SPHR and Debbie Hatke, MA, SPHR

Employee engagement; we’ve heard the term before and as HR professionals we know and we preach that “happy” employees are “productive” employees. But do we really understand engagement? Have we really tried to truly get employees engaged? Do we recognize, and act on the knowledge, that engagement starts well before the employee gets their first paycheck? Are we doing all that we can in every encounter we have with employees to make engagement a reality?

It goes without saying that human capital is the most important asset of every company. We have seen in a number of studies that employee engagement improves the bottom line in almost every instance and it is well worth all organizational efforts to actively engage employees. Helping employees understand the company’s direction and strategic goals, and the significance of their role in meeting those goals is essential. For employees to be committed to an organization and give 150%, they have to feel they have a stake in the company’s success. 

Engagement occurs when adequately skilled employees are trained and provided with the appropriate information and tools to make level-appropriate decisions and can lead the organization in the direction of meeting its financial and strategic goals. Sound difficult to take on? It really isn’t. As with all huge projects we must undertake, it is important to break it down into more manageable pieces and success will follow. 

Many programs have been created and implemented to introduce the concept of engagement to our employees, but what most of us have failed to do is to start that engagement well before the hire. Integrating employee engagement in the recruitment process is the best way to begin engagement in our organizations and is essential for long term success. Without the “right” hire for the “right” position, many of our other efforts are lost. Getting it right in the beginning is essential. So how do we accomplish this?

 

Creating and communicating an employment brand to employees.

A well integrated recruitment and selection process will help attract the strongest candidates. Employers who are able to quickly respond to candidates, provide them with feedback and find a way to sort through searchable information for those candidates who are not a match for the current position (but may be a match in a few months) are most successful. The ability to contact candidates quickly, and for them to contact you quickly, will allow you engage top talent and start off on the right foot.

 

Engaging On-boarding.

In a 2007 Watson Wyatt survey, employers who considered themselves as having a highly engaged workplace took an average of 35 weeks to bring a new hire up to speed. This compares with 15 weeks for companies that considered themselves to have lower levels of engagement. Is your organization spending time on the right activities when bringing employees on board? In addition to the typical on-boarding items, consider addressing the following.

  • Explain to the employee WHY they were hired – truly WHY. What is their role and how does it fit in the organization? What do successes and failures look like in the role?
  • Share with the new employee what it was about them that made them “the one”. Why did you choose this candidate? Help them understand what you valued in the individual so they can see what skills they have that can be most useful for the company.
  • Provide the employee with a realistic job preview. No sugar-coating, please. New recruits must know the job as it is so they can consider their own skills, personality, and abilities to take on tasks necessary for success.
  • Express your commitment to learning and development for the employee and the organization. Employees who feel employers are interested in helping them meet their personal goals are more loyal and engaged.

Engaging social networking.

Internal social networks can help your employees feel more connected. Many people use Facebook and Twitter to keep up with friends and colleagues outside of work. An internal network that allows the same type of interaction internally will allow employees to share knowledge, experiences, and interests online – a much more appealing way for some generations to interact, yet still allows employees to be involved and a part of the organization.

Employee engagement is essential and impacts your employees from well before employment all the way to resignation and/or retirement. There is a strong correlation between effective recruitment, on-boarding/integration, and the financial performance and success of a company. When addressed thoroughly, essential talent will be drawn to your company and quickly engaged. And once you reap the rewards you will easily see that engaged employees are well worth the effort.

 

Patti Dunham, MA, MBA, SPHR and Debbie Hatke, MA, SPHR are Senior Human Resources Management Consultants with Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have questions or comments about this article, you can contact Debbie at Debbie@strategicHRinc.com and Patti at Patti@strategicHRinc.com.

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What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

by Mark Owens, CEO of HR ProFile

The Best Employees Have Nothing to Hide

In 1999 a male employee of a small Indiana plastic molding company followed a female employee into the lady’s room and raped her.  Two years later the plastic molding company closed, crushed under the pressure of lawsuits, bad press and lost customer good will.  The victim of the crime sued the company, claiming negligent hiring and retention.  It seems that the perpetrator of the crime had a history of arrests and one conviction for violence toward women.  Had the company discovered this employee’s violent history they would not have hired him, and they might still be in business today.

Crimes such as physical assault, harassment, threats, rape and even murder are being committed every day in the American workplace.  Each year nearly 2.2 million workers become victims of crimes in the workplace.  That breaks down to over 8000 incidents per work day.  At that rate, how long will it take for an incident to take place at your business? Unfortunately, human nature dictates that we believe bad things will not happen to us.  We want to trust the people we come into contact with so we take them at their word.  The next time the local news reports a workplace shooting, remember there is a company President or CEO just like you, sitting in his office wondering how this could happen at his place of business.

Any employee can be a potential time bomb for your business.  The more employees you have the greater the risk.  And it is nearly impossible to foresee when an employee is going to act in a violent manner.  Your only option as an employer is to gather as much information on your employees and applicants as possible, before they have the opportunity to cause a problem at your business.  It is possible, for instance, to investigate an employee’s personal history and use that information to develop a snapshot of their character.  This means going well beyond having the Human Resources Manager call a couple of previous employers to verify employment dates and whether or not the applicant is eligible for rehire.  Even when an applicant “seems” like an upstanding citizen, or has been referred to your company by an existing employee, it is your obligation to thoroughly investigate their background before giving them access to your business, employees and customers.  When the police arrive at your business to investigate a violent incident between your employees, the first question they are going to ask is “Did you check into this person’s background?”

Look Beneath the Surface

You can be sure that most persons with a criminal history have learned through experience how to beat the system and get hired.  If they are turned down for a job because the potential employer discovered their criminal history, they will move on to another prospective employer who doesn’t perform background checks.  Remember, this person has nothing to lose by applying at your company; in fact they have an incentive to lie to you because they need the job.  Every time an employment screening company finds a “hit” on a subject, there is a company who intended to hire that person.  That means the subject defeated the interview system and successfully hid their criminal past from the interviewer.  Believe me, the liars are not concerned about the hard work and dedication you put into building your business.  They are not concerned about the safety and security of your family, employees and customers or becoming a long-term asset to your company.  They are concerned about collecting a paycheck, taking what they can from your business before inevitably moving on; leaving you to deal with the problems they’ve created.

For the majority of companies in the United States, a background check on job applicants consists of calling former employers, or the references that were provided by the applicant. Let’s face it: checking employment references is a time consuming, tedious process.  And gaining useful, in-depth information is a challenge for even the most seasoned HR professional.  HR Managers are often under pressure to complete the hiring process and fill vacant positions to keep up with production.  As a result many HR Managers go through the motions of checking references, securing employment dates and job title, and hope the new employee works out okay. I know this happens because I’ve been an HR Manager! If the new employee is a horrible worker, or arrives late once a week, they will have to be replaced.  But if the new employee has a history of violent behavior, drug use or alcohol abuse that you did not discover before hiring them, you have a whole new set of problems that need to be dealt with.  The best job applicants are prepared to provide you with the names and phone numbers of people who are able to act as references.  Check with your Human Resource Department to be sure all employee references are checked thoroughly.

It is easy for employers to get lulled into a feeling of false security because they “Know” their employees. In fact, a prospect recently told me that she is not interested in background checks because they “really get to know the applicant during the hiring process and haven’t had any problems yet.”  I am afraid this prospect will follow the “burglar alarm” scenario, instituting an employment-screening program after they have had an incident.  Remember, you need to avoid the liars, and the liars know how to hide their past. We recently had a client call about a criminal check we performed on one of their applicants.  The client was “shocked and surprised” that this fifty-year-old “grandmotherly type” had felony convictions for Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor and Pandering Obscenity.  Another client requested a criminal history check on a candidate for Assistant Manager of a retail outlet.  A skip trace revealed several previous addresses the applicant “forgot” to mention.  A check of this person’s previous addresses revealed convictions for Rioting, Resisting Arrest, Risk to Another, Criminal Mischief and Assault! Had this client not performed a thorough, multi-county background check, this person would be representing the company today, with access to company funds, fellow employees and customers. This client is convinced that background checks are a great idea!  Every day employment-screening companies reveal hidden secrets about the criminal history of job applicants. In fact, our records indicate that depending on the industry and location, between 9 and 35 percent of all criminal history checks return a “hit” that was not admitted to on the application.  So, if you have 10 employees, and have not performed background checks, you can conclude that at least one of your employees is hiding something.

You may be wondering how the information revealed on a background check will prevent one of your employees from committing a crime at your business.  It is not possible to predict when an individual will act violently toward another employee or a customer; you are not in the business of foreseeing the future.  What you can do is employ all means available to prevent historically violent people from becoming part, or remaining part, of your business. Criminal background checks allow you to see a pattern of behavior that shows a propensity for violence.  Rejecting applicants with a violent past can decrease the probability of a violent incident, because those individuals with violent tendencies do not get hired.  Think of a background check as an insurance policy, you are investigating job applicants before they become your problem. Remember, insight is better than hindsight.

The inevitable result of a violent incident in the workplace is a lawsuit against the company.  I will not discuss whether or not it is just to hold a company liable for its employee’s actions, because the courts have already decided that you are liable. During a lawsuit, the jury will attempt to determine the degree of liability of the employer.  Is the employer liable for putting employees at risk? What actions could the employer have taken to prevent the incident? Performing background checks will not eliminate lawsuits, but will significantly reduce your exposure for negligence. The theory is that companies who perform thorough employment screens and consistently follow specific hiring guidelines, have done all they can to disqualify potentially dangerous people.

An Ounce of Prevention…

The term background check encompasses a wide array of products and services.  Criminal history checks, reference checks, education verification, Moving Violation Reports are all components of a background check.  Each component contains many variables that determine the quality and validity of the information provided.  For instance, there are hundreds of different criminal history check products available.  Some Internet searches return information instantly, but because of the limitations of the database they access, do not report all criminal activity.  Some Internet searches report arrest records from the state prison system, but often do not show the disposition of an arrest.  There are companies that check only the current county of residence, or a group of local counties. Local county searches can be inexpensive, but do not report criminal history outside of the local area.

Each state differs in the amount and type of information they provide for Moving Violation Reports, and which agency provides this information.  Workers’ Compensation History reports also vary from state to state. And getting useful job reference information from most companies is nearly impossible!  This is truly an information heavy industry; the challenge is to gather accurate, useful information that helps you weed out the problem personalities, before they become employees.

A thorough, well thought out employment screening program is the best defense for you and your employees against hiring and retaining potentially dangerous people.  At a minimum your employment-screening program should consist of a thorough reference check of at least three previous employers, and a multi-county criminal history check.  A multi-county criminal check consists of a search of the applicant’s Social Security number to reveal all current and former counties of residence.  Even if the applicant did not list an address on the application, the Social Security trace will find it.  Once all addresses are revealed, a hand search of each local courthouse is performed to uncover any conviction history.  Your background-screening provider should have the ability to check any of the more than 4300 courthouses in the United States.  By checking the local courthouse, you can be confident that your search information is accurate and up-to-date.

Your employment-screening provider should assist you in developing and implementing your screening program.  Your provider should be an expert on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (one of many statutes that govern the employment screening industry) and provide you with the tools necessary to legally inform all applicants that you intend to check their background.  The provider should assist you with applicants who dispute the results of a criminal search and provide an 800 number for applicants to call with questions.

Before implementing your employment-screening program, determine what conviction history is acceptable, and what will disqualify a candidate.  For example, the majority of our clients immediately disqualify any applicant with a prior conviction for any violent act, regardless of the job they are applying for.  Clients who allow employees to handle cash will often disqualify an applicant with a conviction for theft, although they may hire that person to work in a position where they don’t have access to company funds.  In addition to immediately disqualifying applicants, criminal background reports may show an unattractive pattern of behavior.  For example, if a criminal history check reveals that an applicant has several minor misdemeanor convictions, or an MVR report shows multiple speeding tickets or DUI’s, you might determine that this person has difficulty following the rules and is not going to be an asset to your organization.  Most of our clients disqualify applicants for falsifying their application if they have a criminal conviction and did not list it on the application.  The key to a successful employment-screening program is consistency. If you disqualify a subject for lying on an application, you must disqualify all applicants who lie on the application.

Insure your Future

We are all aware of the awesome responsibility of owning and operating a business.  Our employees depend on the business to provide income to pay mortgages, car loans, buy groceries, etc.  Nearly all CEO’s will agree that recruiting, hiring and maintaining productive employees is the single greatest challenge of their business.  As the steward of the business, it falls on the shoulders of the CEO to make certain that our employees can conduct our business free of threat and harassment.  When an employee of your company attacks a fellow employee or customer, it is your business, your money and your future that are at risk.  More than ever it is vital that you thoroughly investigate the people you employ.  Information on an individual’s criminal history, education, work experience, workers’ compensation history and credit history is available, inexpensive to obtain and should be part of your hiring program.  If you have insurance on your facilities, vehicles and equipment, you should have insurance for your hiring process.  When you consider what is at stake, employment-screening checks simply make good business sense.

Thanks to Mark Owens, President and Founder of HR ProFile for contributing his article and his expertise to our newsletter.  When he started his business, his goal was to become a leading company dedicated exclusively to employment screening. Today, HR ProFile is among America’s Top 10 Employment Screening Firms.  For more information contact Dan Sheedy at DSheedy@HRProFile.com  or by phone at 513-388-4300 or 800-969-4300.

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Managing the Challenges of Relocation

by Galen Tinder of Ricklin-Echikson Associates, Inc.

Introduction

A famous study measures the amount of stress caused by several dozen common life events. Relocation ranks third in intensity, following on the heels of the death of a close relative and divorce.

MOVING IS STRESSFUL:

  • Its hard work—selling a house, securing housing in the new location, packing and transporting family goods and the endless necessary tasks of “settling in.”
  • The children, whether eight or eighteen, need extra attention.
  • It is a time of saying goodbye to friends and to familiar and beloved places.
  • The entire family needs to adjust to all the differences in the new location.  Families moving to another country can expect almost everything to be different.
  • Nearly every aspect of common family life changes: daily routines, schools, community associations, friendships, even the physical  landscape.

Change and Transition

William Bridges, an organization psychologist, observes that most people react to change by navigating their way through three distinct stages – Endings, the Neutral Zone and New Beginnings. People achieve successful transitions when they adjust to change through the healthy navigation of each of these three transition stages. When we fail to accomplish the essential tasks of each stage, we can get stuck in an incomplete and unsatisfying transition.  This failure cripples our ability to live a satisfying life in our new area.

Endings

Our reaction to change always begins with the Ending. The Ending phase typically begins when we first learn about an impending move.

Right away we begin to think about everything we must do to complete the logistical challenges of uprooting from one place and settling in another. At the same time, we typically feel a sense of loss about the life we are leaving behind.  The prospect of this loss can trigger a period of grief, as though we are preparing to lose a person close to us.  The experience of grief includes several emotions:

  • Shock – “I can’t believe that we have to move just as we were getting to like it here.”
  • Anger – “I am just sick and tired of moving and I can’t imagine doing it again.
  • Anxiety – “I don’t know how I am going to get everything ready.”
  • Sadness – “I am going to miss ­­­­___________________  (people, places, activities, events).
  • Fear – “I am used to the people in California.  How am I going to get along with those easterners from Massachusetts?!”
  • Confusion and disorientation-  “I always feel awkward, on edge.”  (Expatriating employees and spouses are especially vulnerable.) 

These feelings are uncomfortable, even painful, but also normal.  Emotions are not negative in themselves, only in how they can affect us when we either ignore them or cling on to them past their natural life.  Feeling anger and sadness does not mean that there is something wrong with us or with the move.  Life as it is, even good life, often produces uncomfortable feelings.  We don’t need to run from these feelings, but to learn from them.

How do we do this? We may instinctively fear that if we acknowledge and articulate painful emotions, it will give them more power. Quite the contrary.  By discussing our feelings with others we dilute their power, put them in a larger perspective and soften their negative impact.

So, a basic rule for managing change is to let ourselves feel what we feel and to discuss our feelings with people we trust.

Children are no different from adults on this score.  They adjust best to relocation when they can both talk about their worries and participate in the practicalities of moving. 

Children of all ages feel the strain of moving and any child old enough to talk about it will benefit from doing so.  Families that talk together about the ending phase of relocation make a smoother transition to their new home and environment. 

Rituals are valuable ways for both adults and children to mark the significance of transitions and say good-bye to a part of their life that is ending.  These parting rituals don’t have to be fancy – a last visit to a favorite pizza parlor, a romp at the local playground, visits to important sites like schools, and special good-bye time with friends are examples of simple, but effective, leave-taking rituals. Some children host a goodbye party for their friends  before the move.

In the case of moving, what is good for children is also healthy for adults. Here are several tips for “closure” at the Ending stage of your transition.

  • Before the move, take the time to say good-bye to people and places. It gives us a sense of rounding off, of completion, and allows time to acknowledge what we will miss. Keep a journal of your experiences while living abroad.
  • Encourage open communication among family members. Inform children about the move as soon as possible. When feasible, include children in some aspects of the decision-making process about how the move will be organized. Encourage everybody to speak honestly about their reactions and explore your new surroundings.
  • Take time to relax and have fun.  Inaugurate life in your new home or apartment with a special “Welcome to Us” dinner. Try to learn the new language.
  • Pre-relocation visits to the new area help both adults and children to make the transition.  Instead of wondering about the unknown, we can begin preparing ourselves while still in our old location.
  • Relocation is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding.  This is not the best time to abandon your normal routines of self-care in the areas of sleep, nutrition and exercise.
  • Have reasonable expectations of yourself and others.  Recognize that relocation is inherently stressful and do not be hard on yourself for not handling everything perfectly.
  • These suggestions apply as much to expatriating and repatriating relocaters as they do to those who move domestically, though pre-relocation visits are difficult to arrange for obvious reasons.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help.  Well, you can hesitate, but do it anyway.  Don’t confuse asking for help with self-pity or weakness.  And remember that most people like to help.  Expatriates report that it is valuable to arrive equipped with the contact information for other expatriates from their own country. Network, network and network, some more!
  • Keep your sense of humor.  If you have never had one, try to develop it.

The Neutral Zone

The Neutral Zone occupies the middle stage of transition; it begins with the departure from the old home and extends into the initial period of resettlement. Its duration varies anywhere from two or three months to nine months.

The Neutral Zone is often marked by a sense of dislocation and anxiety.  Change means heading into unfamiliar territory, and during this passage it is common to confront a feeling of emptiness.   People often feel in limbo; they miss their familiar surroundings but have not yet planted firm roots in the new area.  During this period family members are especially vulnerable to disappointment as they find that their new location does not offer the same features, attractions and apparent advantages they had appreciated “back home.”

Despite its unsettling aspects, the Neutral Zone also provides time for rejuvenation, self-examination and redirected focus. In the Neutral Zone people discover new talents and passions, and a capacity for closer, more rewarding relationships.

People moving from one country to another may be cheated out of their neutral zone, depending on how marked the differences are between the two.  The culture shock that accompanies moving to a foreign country can turn into an ongoing culture adjustment. There are many stages of culture shock; from the pre-departure phase to the honeymoon period onto intense culture shock and finally, recovery and adjustment which is just before repatriation.

One expert on change has remarked that it is an interlude that deserves to be “savored.”  Here are several suggestions for making your Neutral Zone a “tasty” one:

  • Accept what is.  Waging a war against circumstances that are fixed is self-destructive and wastes enormous energy.
  • Accept your feelings for what they are.  Anger and sadness aren’t negative feelings unless you do not acknowledge them or realize you have them.
  • Relocations disrupt the customary routines that give our lives structure, so it may help to quickly reestablish routines that provide a sense of order and structure.
  • Being in Neutral for a while is normal.  It is a resting time between the rigors of departure on one end and getting newly settled and established at the other.

The main danger of the neutral zone is that of getting stuck. How do you know if you have gotten stuck? The two most common signs of an unsuccessful transition are emotions that are unusually intense or prolonged.  If you are incapacitated by anxiety before the move or mourning the old homestead a year after relocating, it may be time to seek professional help.

Beginnings

Veteran movers learn that the unpacking of their belongings scarcely concludes their relocation.  Experience teaches them that it takes six to nine months to fully acclimate to their new world.

So it can be difficult to pinpoint where the Neutral Zone merges into New Beginnings. But at some point people look back and realize that they have made the shift.  Families that have successfully relocated report that the key to making a healthy transition is to quickly form connections in the new community.

  • They make an effort to meet their new neighbors.
  • If they are religious, they seek a spiritual home within a month of  moving.
  • They join one or two community groups or voluntary associations—the library guild, rescue squad, municipal health commission, hospital volunteer corps, town recreation program, planning board and Rotary are but a few of the possibilities.  People who are in a new country have a special challenge.  At the beginning, especially, everything can feel intimidated.  Veterans of foreign moves advise that new arrivals need to get plentiful and accurate information about their host culture and immediate surroundings so that they are not constrained by their apprehension.

In other words, successful movers quickly establish relationships in their new area.

The Challenge of Change

Change is difficult.  Changes in external circumstances often demand and call for internal changes.  We are faced with having to let go of our familiar sources of security and self-definition.

People who have made successful relocations tend to share a number of common traits. They: 

  • Are intentional about setting goals and organizing their actions around these goals.  They are clear, with themselves and with others, about their important values.
  • Neither deny nor wallow in their emotions, but accept them for what they are and work from there.  Meanwhile, they keep their sense of humor.
  • Communicate their feelings openly and listen sympathetically to the feeling of others.
  • Focus on their own behavior instead of trying to control the behavior of others.
  • Take responsibility for themselves and are open to personal change. They know the futility of procrastination and self-pity.
  • Practice flexibility and tolerance of others.

People who manage change well are those who can make and accept changes in themselves.  When a major change such as relocation appears on the horizon, they are not immune from normal feelings like fear, sadness and anger.  But by facing and expressing these feelings, they move toward the future with hope and a sense of adventure.

Galen Tinder is a Senior Consultant and Manager for Ricklin-Echikson Associates, Inc. Ricklin-Echikson Associates, Inc., (REA) delivers customized programs to address the diverse needs of Expatriates and Repatriates. REA consultants, located throughout the world, are International Human Resource professionals who have lived and worked abroad and are experienced in career/life planning and cross-cultural issues. Services assist the spouse and family in acclimating to the new country and culture. For additional information about REA’s International Services, contact Susan Ginsberg at 800-593-3311 or srgreacareers@worldnet.att.net.

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Preventing Violence in the Workplace

by Laura Littlecott, PHR

Preventing Violence in the Workplace by Laura Littlecott, PHR

In light of the recent tragic events in Newtown, Aurora, Portland and elsewhere, many employers and are compelled to re-evaluate their workplace violence prevention strategies. Incidents of such violence leave lasting scars on employees and organizations, and extract a painful personal and financial toll. What constitutes workplace violence? Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention: American National Standard defines it as “a spectrum of behaviors – including overt acts of violence, threats, and other conduct – that generates a reasonable concern for safety from violence, where a nexus exists between the behavior and the physical safety of employees and others (such as customers, clients, and business associates) on-site or off-site, when related to the organization.” According to the SHRM Workplace Violence Survey conducted in 2012, over one-third of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence. While there is no 100% fool-proof way to prevent all workplace violence, there are measures organizations can take to protect their employees and mitigate risk.

First, employers can take several physical and technological measures to enhance security in the workplace. Such measures include but are not limited to: electronic security and surveillance systems, check-in requirements for visitors, employee IDs, regular security guard patrols, increased lighting and limiting public access to parts of the building. Further, an organization’s IT departments should have sound data security procedures in place to prevent unauthorized access to company data. Failing to provide adequate safety measures could expose an employer to liability should an injury or death occur that might have been prevented by such security.

Second, employers can implement several prevention strategies to help identify employees at risk for workplace violence. Hiring managers should be thoroughly trained in avoiding negligent hiring, and identifying early warning signs of violence and how to address those signs. Complete background checks should be conducted on all candidates. A clear disciplinary action plan should be in place for employees who have engaged in violent behaviors in the workplace. When a potentially violent employee must be terminated, employers should have a plan in place to ensure the employee leaves the premises in the manner that protects all employees in the workplace.

Third, organizations should develop a complete workplace violence prevention program that incorporates not only the above procedures, but other strategies as well. Actions such as periodic risk assessments (completed during a safety audit), drills, a complete investigation process for reported acts of violence, a regular communication plan, and assigning a safety officer or point person to each location or office whose responsibility is to receive any workplace violence reports or concerns. Beyond such visible measures, organizations must regularly stress to employees that they take their safety and security seriously. Also, with the high incidence of domestic violence in the workplace, employers should implement policies and procedures to protect employees who may be victims of such violence. Some states may even have laws addressing workplace domestic violence, and policies should be tailored in compliance with such laws.

Workplace violence is an unfortunate fact in today’s stressful culture. However, by combining physical security, prevention strategies, and effective programs, companies can improve the safety and well-being of their employees and create a culture of security and productivity.

Laura Littlecott, PHR is a Human Resources Management Consultant with Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have questions or comments about this article, you can contact Laura at LauraL@strategicHRinc.com.

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Retention: What Can I Do?

by Robin Throckmorton, M.A., SPHR

Has the market turned on us?
Are we actually in a recession? 
Then why is retention still such a huge issue for all of us?

This is one of the most amazing economic states that we have experienced in quite some time. Although there has recently been a huge number of layoffs, there is still a labor shortage. This means that companies are still battling the retention issue. But, we are all quickly learning that having an effective retention program is the right thing to do in any economy because it provides us with a competitive advantage.

Research shows that it costs between 50 – 150% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them. Skeptical? The cost to replace an employee includes costs for both recruiting and training the new employee plus the loss of productivity while the position is empty and even during the “learning curve”. The exact cost depends on the level of the position and the current market demand for that position.

But why do employees leave? The number one reason reported by employees for leaving a company is because of poor relationships/communications with their supervisor. A supervisor represents your organization to the employee and has control over what the employee does or doesn’t do. If a supervisor isn’t recognizing and rewarding an employee’s efforts, providing continuous learning opportunities for an employee, or just making the employee fit in and feel valued, the employee will look elsewhere. Some of the other top reasons cited for employees deciding to leave include: lack of professional growth opportunities, failure to be recognized or rewarded for efforts, feeling as though their work is not meaningful, or just feeling like they don’t fit into the organization.

The key, then, to successfully retaining your employees begins with you, human resources, and management. One individual CAN make the world of difference in retaining employees by:

  1. Recognizing and valuing the differences in employees including personality differences.
    For example, your personality may be very different from another individual but that doesn’t make your way of communicating or assigning work the “right” way. People communicate and receive information very differently which can create conflict, stress, or frustration if it isn’t acknowledged.
  2. Maintaining a very supportive, caring, and positive attitude.
    Do you like working for a manager who doesn’t appear to care about you or your needs? Nobody does. An employee is going to be less likely to leave an organization if they are working with a supervisor and other employees who care about them and don’t intimidate them.
  3. Being readily available and easy to communicate with.
    It’s one thing to say you have an open door policy, but employees really need to feel like your door is always open to them. Plus, when employees do decide to approach you, be an active listener and make them feel like you are very approachable and easy to communicate with.
  4. Rolling up your sleeves and helping when needed.
    Ever felt like others, including your supervisor, had no idea what you did? You can help an employee feel like both they and their work are valued by being willing to roll-up your sleeves and pitch in when they are swamped or working toward a tight deadline.

So whether you are human resources, the president of the company, the supervisor, or another employee, all four of these strategies will make the other employees (and even you!) more motivated about working at your organization.

The next step toward effectively retaining your employees requires you to find out what motivates them to want to work for the organization. For each individual, this can be very different; however, there will be some themes that create similarities. The best way to discover this information is to simply ASK. You have a number of opportunities to ask your employees their opinions, including regular business meetings, exit interviews, performance reviews, focus groups, or employee surveys. Try a few basic questions such as:

  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What would you like to see changed or improved here?
  • What motivates you to want to work?

Of course, you can ask many other questions to gather even more specific and detailed information but these basic topics will be a great place to start.

Once you’ve asked people for their opinions, they feel much more valued and a part of the organization, but, only if you listen and take action. Be forewarned that you will create more problems if you ask employees for their input and don’t take action. Taking action doesn’t mean that you have to give employees exactly what they want but rather: acknowledge their input and ideas; explain what action is being taken and when; explain why something can’t be done; and most importantly, involve employees in developing and implementing a feasible solution to their suggestions.

Since the needs of each individual can be very different, you may find that some of the solutions don’t cost anything or are very inexpensive. The key is to be creative and respond to the needs of your organization rather than trying to mirror what other organizations are doing. Below are some examples of what others have done, but again, use this list as a way to think about what will work in your organization based on your employees’ needs:

  • Exit Interviews
  • Paid Internships
  • Salary Increases
  • Retention Bonuses
  • Sign-on Bonuses with Delayed Payment
  • Relocation Payback Agreements
  • Training / Education Payback Agreements
  • Spot Cash Awards
  • Career Counseling (Employee/family)
  • Shorten Waiting Periods for Benefits
  • Base Company Paid Benefits on Tenure
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Stock Options
  • Subsidized Child Care
  • Concierge Services
  • Sabbaticals
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Job Sharing
  • Job Rotation
  • Telecom muting
  • Business Casual Dress
  • Diversity Initiative
  • Project Celebrations
  • Employee Recognition Programs
  • Employee Opinion Survey
  • Work/Life Programs
  • Thank You, Birthday, Christmas Cards
  • Employee Involvement
  • Computer Subsidy or Purchase
  • Educational Assistance for Children
  • Management Style
  • Mentors / Coaches
  • Vacation Stipends
  • House Cleaning Stipend
  • Take Out Dinners
  • Care Packages for Family
  • Informal/Formal Feedback to Employees
  • New Hire Orientation
  • Performance Appraisals

Your final step is to put together an action plan for what you are going to do in order to start addressing retention in your organization. Your action plan should be specific, realistic, and timely. And, most importantly, you need to do it!!!

Good luck with the challenges of this unique economy, but most importantly retaining your employees!

Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant is President of Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If your association or organization would benefit from a highly interactive session on retention or you want to share with us on retention techniques you have found to work, you can contact Robin at 513-697-9855 or Robin@strategicHRinc.com for more details.

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Napping in the Workplace

Question:

Should I incorporate napping in the workplace for my employees?  What are the benefits and drawbacks?

Answer:

As more and more companies get on board with wellness programs in the workplace, the trend of employers providing their employees with nap and meditation rooms is increasing.

A 2011 poll of 600 American companies found that six percent of businesses surveyed had employee nap rooms, a one percent increase over the previous year, the National Sleep Foundation reports. Perhaps even more surprising, 34 percent of respondents said their employees are allowed occasional naps at work, with 16 percent of employers offering designated nap areas. These pro-napping policies might be arriving at just the right time: 28 percent of workers admitted that daytime sleepiness impacts their daily duties a few times a month (read more here).

Some well known companies that are “nap friendly” include: NASA, AOL, Google, Ben & Jerry’s, Nike, Zappos, and the US House of Representatives. The benefits of the short power nap are well documented.

Some tips if you’re considering implementing a nap program at your company:

  • Designate specific nap/meditation rooms where employees can go to rest
  • Educate employees on the benefits of taking a 20-30 minute nap and the physical drawbacks of napping for too long
  • Gain management’s support – getting your management on board helps employees to accept and embrace such a program and alleviate negative reactions to others napping
  • Incorporate the nap program into your wellness program
  • It’s all about trust, trust, trust – a program like this will require the company to trust that their employees will not abuse napping privileges

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest HR problems.

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Workplace Tragedy – Sandy Hooks Shooting

Question:

Ever since the shootings last week at Sandy Hook Elementary, there has been non-stop coverage of the events on the news. We have some employees that are understandably very upset to the point of not being able to function at work. What can we do as employers to help ease the fears of our employees after a very public crisis occurs such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut?

Answer:

Our hearts go out to the people of Newtown, Connecticut after a very horrific day last week.

Such a tragic event, that is made so public, can affect many people – the victims, the survivors, the community and the public at large. The degree of impact will vary greatly depending on the individual. You may find that some parents want to check in on their children more frequently this week and may even be anxious about having their children at school. For employees with older children, they will be attempting to manage their child’s anxiety and emotions surrounding the event (as well as their own).

As an employer it is important to recognize your employees’ anxiety. Often by acknowledging our fears and having the ability to speak of them openly we can resolve some of the angst. After a national tragedy occurs, it’s a good idea for the employer to openly acknowledge the event and set forth a plan of action regarding how the event will be handled at work.

  • Start by being aware of possible workplace tensions created by the extra stress. Some employees will be overly sensitive to references of the event while others will have no problems discussing their views openly which could create additional tensions, especially if discussions turn political or religious in nature. Remind employees to be sensitive to individual feelings regarding the event.
  • Let employees know where they can turn if they need someone to talk with or would like to do something as a group to cope. Encourage employees to make use of existing resources such as your employee assistance program, exercise rooms, additional community resources, in-house educational programs and human resources staff. Providing links to online resources is a great idea if you do not have anything internal to offer. Employees need to feel that their families are taken care of and are safe – providing these resources can help employees cope as well as educate them with concepts they can use with their family at home.
  • Decide how you will accept requests for schedule changes or additional breaks to make check-in phone calls with family – flexibility will be important in the first few days following the tragedy. Be aware that the emotions surrounding the event are not easily left at home or at the time clock.

With today’s easy access to 24 hour news it can be difficult for people to move throughout their daily lives and not be reminded of events that are disturbing. Since much of our day is spent at work it only makes sense that how we deal with such events will play out at work, and how we as employers respond to such events with our employees will greatly impact their ability to heal and move on.

The victims, families, rescue personnel, and community of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting will forever be in the thoughts and prayers of strategic HR, inc.

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Importance of Diversity

Question:

Why is diversity so important in the workplace?

Answer:

Diversity is important in the workplace for a variety of reasons.  First, let’s take a look at the general definition of diversity in the workplace: having an organization that employs individuals whose ethnicity,  gender, background, experiences, abilities, skills, age, and opinions are varied.

So, why is this so important?  Well, according to UC Berkely in Why Diversity Matters,

There is evidence that managing a diverse work force can contribute to increased staff retention and productivity. It can enhance the organization’s responsiveness to an increasingly diverse world of customers, improve relations with the surrounding community, increase the organization’s ability to cope with change, and expand the creativity of the organization.

In a global marketplace, a company is more likely to be able to meet the needs of its customers and gain access to new markets with a diverse workforce.  Bringing in talent into the workplace whose experience or background pertains to these new markets can be an efficient solution to accessing these markets as different skills, e.g. language or understanding of cultural norms, are often required to break initial barriers to entry.

The Center for American Progress lists the Top 10 Economic Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace as the following:

  1. A diverse workforce drives economic growth.
  2. A diverse workforce can capture a greater share of the consumer market.
  3. Recruiting from a diverse pool of candidates means a more qualified workforce.
  4. A diverse and inclusive workforce helps businesses avoid employee turnover costs.
  5. Diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce.
  6. Businesses need to adapt to our changing nation to be competitive in the economic market.
  7. Diversity is a key aspect of entrepreneurialism.
  8. Diversity in business ownership is key to moving our economy forward.
  9. Diversity in the workplace is necessary to create a competitive economy in a globalized world.
  10. Diversity in the boardroom is needed to leverage a company’s full potential.

Finally, diversity in the workplace helps employers comply with legislation that protects individuals from discrimination.  When employers are legally compliant with these laws, the likelihood of employees pursuing legal action due to discriminatory activities by the company decreases (smallbuisness.chron.com, The Importance of Diversity in the Workplace).

 Recruitment is a critical HR function. Strategic HR, inc. knows that finding and keeping talented employees is the key to company survival. That’s why our Talent consultants utilize a variety of resources to help clients source, screen and select the best candidates and employees. Please visit our Recruitment page for more information on how we can help you effectively and efficiently find your next employee.

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Social Security & Unemployment

Question:

We want to lay off an employee who is currently drawing Social Security. Would the employee be eligible to apply and receive unemployment benefits while they are on Social Security?

Answer:

It depends. Depending upon the state that you are in, social security benefits would not necessarily make them ineligible for benefits (based on the reason for dismissal) but it may offset the benefits they are eligible for. The link below, provided by the National Employment Law Project, has a helpful chart showing the state by state social security offset rule – http://www.nelp.org/page/-/UI/Development_of_social_security_offsets_Nov_2007.pdf.

Strategic HR, inc. knows that keeping abreast of legal compliance issues can be daunting, especially when the laws keep changing. We can help you stay compliant by fielding your questions and offering resources to help you identify and mitigate compliance issues. Visit our Compliance page to learn about our auditing services which can help you identify trouble spots in your HR function.

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More Difficult People Resources

Question:

Ughhhh…we have an employee that does a great job at what she does (technically speaking) but she is very challenging for everyone to work with between her attitude, comments, and more. Many employees can’t stand to work with her. What do we do?

Answer:

Your dilemma brought back memories of similar “people problems” for all of us!  We’ve all had unhappy experiences as HR Managers dealing with staff that are technically competent but difficult to work with.

We do have some recommendations for resources on this topic, which are listed below.  We make these recommendations not knowing the specific behaviors that are challenging to you and the other staff in your unit.

  • Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dealing with Difficult Employees – Robert Bacal
  • 201 Ways to Deal with Difficult People – Alan Axelrod, et al
  • Dealing with Problem Employees:  A Legal Guide – Amy Delpo and Lisa Guerin
  • Managing Negative People:  Strategies for Success – S. Michael Kravitz
  • Since Strangling Isn’t an Option:  Dealing with Difficult People – Common Problems and Uncommon Solutions – Sandra A. Crowe

These books are all available through Amazon.com, and a favorite is the Kravitz book.

Our  experience has shown  that to change behaviors, it’s necessary to change the consequences of behaviors.  If your difficult employee doesn’t hear clearly and unequivocably that her behaviors are unacceptable and that there are consequences to not changing (i.e., no promotions or raises), she likely won’t find it in her best interests to adjust.

Thanks to Linda Gravett PhD, SPHR, CEQC with Gravett and Associates for sharing her insight on working with a difficult employee.  To contact Linda directly, she can be reached at Linda@Gravett.com or 513-753-8870.

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Employee Engagement Surveys

 

 

Question:

What is an employee engagement survey and why would our company need one?

Answer:

 

An employee engagement survey is a great tool to have to help a business get their employees involved and actively engaged in operations. Basically, it’s a survey that gives employees the opportunity to share their opinions on the business-related issues of their company to help improve business functionality. Surveys are often administered anonymously and cover topics such as operations, benefits, culture and satisfaction to name a few of the more common ones.

The first step in conducting an employee survey is be sure the company is committed to taking action based on the input of the employees and to define what that action will be. Action may include telling employees their recommendations cannot be implemented because of certain factors (i.e. cost, time, resources). Responses will need to be sincere and honest and might include ways for employees to overcome any obstacles presented.

The next step is to plan and construct the survey. There are many online tools and resources to help you create and administer an employee survey. Decide if you will want to have recipients answer questions anonymously. You’ll likely get a larger number of responses and higher quality input by allowing respondents to provide anonymous responses. Using a third party administrator or a highly trusted staff member can be critical to “selling” the anonymity of the survey. If promising secrecy, but sure the survey is conducted with the utmost of confidentiality and explain that in detail to participants.

Finally determine a plan of action for your line of questioning. What are some trouble-spots in your company that you would like to explore and learn more about? Are you having high turnover? An increase in safety problems? Is productivity down or customer complaints up? Or are you trying to get a read on the pulse of your company and it’s culture? Pick the areas you can tackle and target on questions that will help you get the information you need to move forward. Don’t tackle too much in one survey or you will lose employee interest and patience. Your questions can be canned or customized to your situation, long or short, choice-based or open-ended. If this is your first survey, we find even the basic questions can be helpful:

  • What do you like most about our organization?
  • Why do you come to work every day here rather than for another company?
  • What would you like to see improved at our organization?
  • Would you recommend our organization to a friend as a good place to work? Why or why not?

Once the survey document is complete it’s time to administer the questionnaire. Some great online solutions include SurveyMethods and SurveyMonkey. Both offer various service levels of membership from free to paid access depending on the features you need for your survey. Both allow you to trial these tools to determine what level you need and to see the reporting features provided.

The survey results should help you make improvements and focus on strengths in your organization. You’ll find the feedback from employees will help with developing communications, recruiting techniques, benefits, and more. Employees who operate in the day-to-day of the business tend to have practical suggestions that may not be “huge” or “costly” to implement but can make a big impact. Overall outcomes can include increased safety, productivity, quality, profitability, lower turnover and higher levels of customer satisfaction. Not to mention that by simply asking employees for their opinions it can heighten their engagement and give them a sense of satisfaction and worth. You’ll see even more value as you repeat the employee survey year after year to asses the improvements.

Has your organization become stagnant? Are you experiencing unusual turnover or employee discontent? Often the simple answer is to simply ASK your employees “what’s going on?” Strategic HR, inc. has worked with many organizations, of all sizes and in various industries, to help diagnosis engagement problems and determine the appropriate course of action. Whether it’s an employee survey, focus group, or face-to-face interviews, strategic HR is your neutral third party solution for finding answers to your questions. Contact us today to find out how we can help you with your particular situation.

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Reasonable Non-Compete

Question:

What considerations need to made in order for a non-compete agreement to be reasonable?

Answer:

It may seem ironic that companies encourage innovation and brilliance while employees are on the payroll, but they pull the plug on that ambition if employees dare to leave. But non-compete agreements attempt to do just that:  to control damage.

Whether signed when staff members come on board, or as part of a ream of paper presented as they leave, non-compete agreements have similar restrictions. An employer lays claim to any products, intellectual property and ideas developed while on the job. And customers or clients handled while a staff member was employed by the company are also generally off-limits.

Courts have tried to balance the interests of employers and departing employees in deciding whether or not a non-compete agreement should be upheld. In order to hold up, here are three areas in which the agreement must be reasonable:

  • Time. You obviously can’t restrict a former employee from competing forever. The time period considered reasonable is one to three years. Sometimes this period is shortened, depending on the industry. For instance, in high-tech businesses where information changes quickly, the restrictions are frequently shorter.
  • Geography. You can make restrictions in the area where your company does business, but probably not nationwide or worldwide. One exception is Internet or software companies that operate worldwide.
  • Scope. No non-compete agreement can strip an employee of the right to earn a living. An agreement can restrict certain core functions, but it can’t prevent an employee from using skills acquired over years. Agreements are analyzed for reasonableness by the courts.

Restrictions must normally be limited to the job the employee performed for the employer. For example, a software engineer for one automaker can’t be restricted from taking a sales job at another manufacturer’s showroom.

Non-compete agreements are subject to the laws of the state in which they’re written. Some states don’t recognize them. Others stipulate that employees must enter into the agreements when first hired. If the document is sprung on an employee later — up to and including quitting day — the company may have to offer something extra (such as a promotion, raise, stock options or other enticement) for the agreement to be valid.   So the best time to secure an agreement is generally when you hire an employee.

To sum up, you can prevent staff members from competing with you after they leave your company but the exact restrictions depend on many things — most importantly, whether circumstances make it reasonable and enforceable.  Consult with your attorney for assistance in drafting the agreement or if you feel a former employee’s conduct violates a non-compete agreement.

Special thanks to Gregory E Ossege for submitting his response to this question. Greg is the managing partner of Ossege Combs & Mann, Ltd. a Cincinnati area CPA and Business Consulting firm. He can be reached at gossege@ocmcpas.com or 513-241-4507. Also, see www.ocmcpas.com for further information.

Are you concerned that you are not in compliance with the required labor laws? Let strategic HR, inc. help. Visit our Compliance page for more information.

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Excessive Absenteeism

Question:

I have an employee with excessive absenteeism and tardiness due to her pregnancy. She has been with the company less than eight months. Per her physician’s request she has been asked to stop working and has asked us for a leave of absence for six to eight months.  The company can not afford to hold this position for such a long time. What are our legal obligations?

Answer:

Since each State has different State-specific laws, we’ll address your question from a federal perspective. You should also confirm your obligations with your respective State as they could be more restrictive.

From a federal viewpoint, you should be concerned with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Pregnancy Act. Because this employee has not been employed an entire year, she is not eligible for FMLA protection. The Pregnancy Act only requires that you provide the employee the same treatment provided others with medical disabilities. So, as long as you are treating her equal to other employees with a short-term disability, you do not need to hold her position. The real issue to be addressed is her absence not her pregnancy.

Based on the limited information you have shared, unless your State has different laws, it appears your company has no obligation to hold the position for the employee.

Do difficult situations with employees keep you awake at night? Strategic HR, inc. understands how conflicts with employees can make or break your day (or a good night’s sleep). Call us when you encounter a difficult situation – we can help coach your managers, suggest solutions or advise you on a specific problem. Learn more about our Employee Relations services by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Just Cause Termination

Question:

Can you terminate a stock room employee for failing to find a piece of needed equipment that he could not locate in the drawer when we had six on hand? He said we didn’t have the part when in fact we did.

Answer:

In an at-will State, an employer can terminate an employee for a bad reason, a good reason, or a silly reason – as long as the reason isn’t against the law. In your situation, the employee displayed either incompetence or inattention to detail and could in fact be fired for this reason alone. The qualifier in this, or in any case of termination, is whether the employee is being discriminated against because of age, race, religion, gender or disability. Each of these factors is covered by protective labor laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Specifically, if employees who are Caucasian, for instance, are not fired for the same offense but only Black men, or Hispanic women, or people over 40 are fired there might be a case of (illegal) discrimination.

The deciding factor in a discrimination case is the answer to the question: was the employee fired for just cause (i.e., not locating a part and perhaps causing a lost customer) or fired solely because of race, color, etc.? To prove a just cause case you better be able to explain who, what, when, where, and why something occurred. Do you know why this person couldn’t find the part? Were they properly trained? Can you prove they were properly trained? Was there an investigation that can show that they knew what they were supposed to do and how to do it but just “didn’t do it”?

Bottom line – do a thorough investigation and make sure you have solid documentation. Without it any reason, or no reason, terminations are more likely to become discrimination lawsuits.

Terminations are one of the most difficult aspects of Human Resources. Even when justified it can be difficult to let someone in the workforce go. When not justified they can be a risky move for any company. Strategic HR, inc. can walk you through a termination, assist with the investigation and provide a third party objective look at each case. Visit our Employee Relations page to see how we can assist you with employment issues.

 

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Dealing With Difficult Employees

Question:

It seems like we are always hearing about a difficult employee or a complaint about a demanding manager. This can really inhibit how successful the team is working together.  Can you offer some suggestions on how to effectively deal with these difficult people?

Answer:

We all have people in our lives who are more challenging to work with than others. There is no one right way to deal with these types of people, but here are some suggestions that can be used depending on the individual circumstances:

  • Remain calm and be respectful – This may sound obvious, but it’s easier said than done; getting worked up serves no purpose. Be respectful and focus on the issue at hand. Keep emotions out of it. If the individual gets personal or derogatory, acknowledge that they are upset and redirect back to the issue at hand.
  • Empathize and get detail – For the demanding person, show them you understand what they are saying, and show you want to work with them.
  • Share your perspective – Talk about what you CAN do. Don’t make excuses, but when appropriate, let them know what possible obstacles you expect to encounter in trying to meet their request.
  • Offer Options – You may not be able to meet the demand exactly, but offer what you can do. Show how this alternative can meet their needs.
  • Escalate if needed – Request that a difficult person allow you the opportunity to resolve the problem. Realize sometimes that escalation is the best solution.
  • Preserve the relationship – Keep the big picture in mind. As easy as it may sound to swear you will never deal with that person again, that may not be realistic.
  • Self examination – Sometimes we have to ask, “Am I the problem?” Take a close look at the situation and ask “Why am I perceiving this person as difficult and demanding?” Could it be that they are just inconvenient for me?

A key underlying theme in all of these tips is solid communication and listening. Employing these skills will help get to the root of the problem. There is no one-size-fits-all method of dealing with challenging people in the workplace. Hopefully these tips can guide you to a positive outcome.

One of the most difficult aspects of human resources management is dealing with people. Are you getting inundated with complaints about managers or employees that take you away from more pressing matters? Are you looking for an on-going solution to combat these issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Employee Engagement Surveys

Question:

What is an employee engagement survey and why would I need one?

Answer:

There are a number of different tools that employers can use to gauge what their employees are thinking.  Employee Opinion Surveys, Employee Satisfaction Surveys or Employee Engagement Surveys are just a few examples.  As the economic recovery takes hold, and large numbers are considering making a change of employers, retention has become a dominant issue for employers.  These surveys are a valuable tool to obtain feedback from your employees on what is working and what is not working in the organization.  The key is to build on what is working, and address and/or make changes to what is not working.  Engagement is particularly insightful to understand your employees’ commitment level to the organization.  Employers who have engaged employees are more productive, more profitable, have less turnover and just an overall more satisfying work environment.

Having good employee relations is key to effectively managing (and retaining) your workforce. Employees want to feel valued and may not perform up to standards, or stick around very long, if they don’t feel they are needed. Strategic HR, inc. understands the value of your workforce and having good Employee Relations. We’ve helped companies create reward and recognition programs and have coached managers on providing support and mentoring to their employees. Learn how we can help you with your Employee Relations needs by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Reducing Employee Turnover

Question:

We operate a retail chain that is having turnover problems. How can I conduct an in-depth analysis of high fluctuation rates in one of our stores?

Answer:

If you have not been using exit interviews for departing employees, you should start doing so immediately. Exit interviews will help you uncover the extent of your problem. Exit interviews can be conducted in person on an employee’s last day or can be sent via email or letter within a couple of days after an employee departs. The exit interview isn’t a forum allowing the former employee to “gripe” about the store; instead you should ask for suggestions for improving the store as a place to work as well as ask why the employee decided to leave.

If you are currently conducting exit interviews, that’s the first place to start with an analysis. Looking at the data is there a pattern across former employees’ comments that indicate “low pay”, “poor benefits”, or “no feedback from supervisor”? These patterns can help guide your actions on appropriate interventions.

If your data shows signs of management issues, you could conduct focus groups or distribute employee opinion surveys to existing employees to get a feel for the current environment and to pinpoint specific issues. Excellent resources for employee opinion surveys can be obtained online from The Society for Human Resource Management (www.shrm.org). If conducting focus groups or surveys of current employees be sure to ask for positive recommendations on the types of training and education that would benefit management staff. Your training and/or coaching dollars could then be spent in the areas where there would be the most payback for the organization.

Conducting an in-depth analysis takes time and money. Your leadership team may be uneasy about spending on a project like this as this time. But if you can demonstrate the high cost of turnover for those employees who have already left and the money saving value of implementing retention practices you could likely change their minds.

Well thought out retention strategies are key to keeping employment costs low in a down economy. By avoiding costly turnover companies can more easily weather an economic downturn. Employee Relations is all about how employers interact with employees to help them remain an engaged and productive employee that is content to continue employment with the company for many years. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can assist you with Employee Relations issues such as retention.